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Adrian Fenty and the politics of showing up


Metro held a one-year anniversary memorial service for the victims of the Red Line crash this morning. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was late.

The ceremony started at 10 a.m. According to Post reporters on the scene, a phalanx of elected officials -- including Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) -- were seated well before the start. Fenty arrived after 10:45, after almost all of the family members had already spoken. He delivered short remarks, sat down with the rest of the officials on the dais, then left after a memorial plaque was unveiled. He did not stay for the retiring of the colors by a Metro police honor guard.

Fenty is a busy man, no doubt. But he's also a man running for reelection, and a man who was criticized for being "noticeably absent from a string of memorials, funerals and wakes" that followed the crash, as Jonathan Mummolo and Nikita Stewart reported last summer.

"Fenty showed up at services for train operator Jeanice McMillan, but he was an hour late and was wearing a light-colored summer suit that some said was inappropriate," they wrote. Fenty skipped a well-attended memorial service for Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. and wife Ann, both crash victims. "The absences are all the more stark for a mayor who has built his political career on seemingly being everywhere at all times and has enjoyed a reputation as an energetic, attentive public servant."

As for today, mayoral spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said that Fenty "had a previous commitment from which he rushed right over to join the families and other officials in dedicating the day to the victims of last year's Metro accident. This was an event he would not miss." (He again wore a light-colored suit.)

Fenty's main campaign rival, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, didn't attend this morning's ceremony -- he was "at a briefing hosted by business leaders on workforce development issues that ran longer than expected," spokeswoman Doxie McCoy says. But Ward 4 council member Muriel Bowser and Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas Jr. -- whose wards were either part of or very near the crash scene -- showed up in his stead, and Thomas offered regrets on Gray's behalf. Gray did speak at a luncheon with victims' families after the ceremony, McCoy says. In the past, Fenty has been reticent to send proxies to speak for him publicly.

What has become clear about Fenty over 3 1/2 years is that he not only prefers action to words, but he has a distaste for grand public gestures that could somehow be dismissed as "old politics." And his disdain of the old ways seems to extend to the received wisdom of urban politicking -- kissing babies, showing up for funerals and otherwise observing the usual niceties. But to what end?

I'm reminded of this passage from Mark Leibovich's 2008 profile of MSNBC host Chris Matthews in the New York Times Magazine:

[Matthews] is diligent about showing up at the city's tribal rites -- hotel dinners, book parties, tributes. He is dutiful about traveling to family weddings, funerals, graduations and first communions. "I place a high premium on showing up," Matthews says. "It's the Woody Allen thing. And one of the things [longtime House speaker Tip O'Neill] said about certain people -- and he meant this as a put-down -- was, 'You never see him around anymore.'"

It's important to be around. When our plane from Cleveland landed in Washington, Matthews learned that William F. Buckley Jr. had just died. Matthews appeared stricken, though he barely knew Buckley. He said he would attend the funeral.

I quote this not to say that Fenty would be generally well served to emulate Chris Matthews. But Matthews' "showing up" ethos reflects what old-school politicos (like O'Neill) have long understood -- showing up means showing people that you care.

Otherwise, how else will they know?

Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 22, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , The District  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: June 23, 2010


Thanks for posting this. I noticed he was over 45 minutes late to this memorial service too. His schedule did not indicated a conflict which caused him to be late....and it was obvious.

Posted by: winston61 | June 22, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I'll bet you that Fenty won't be late for the opening of the Penn Ave bike lanes. THAT'S important to him.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 22, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Example of how political success and the power that comes with it changes you into a typical fat cat politician who only cares about himself and his constituency. Good luck getting re-elected with a construction project on every street east of the annacostia river causing delays.

Posted by: ged0386 | June 22, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

You cannot fake what you do not feel and the voters know that! It's way too late for Fenty now.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 22, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

The Mayor was actively campaigning this morning with Campaign workers who were soliciting names for his nominating petition at the Columbia Heights Metro Station. He was there at 9:00 AM - I don't know how long he stayed after that, as I went to catch a train. Had Mayor Fenty simply gone downstairs and boarded a Metrorail train, he could have been to Fort Totten in less than 15 minutes.

Posted by: paul_postie | June 22, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse


How much is Gray paying you for these ridiculous blogs?

And, what's with the Mary Cheh line "to what end?"

Anyway, Fenty is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't with you. If he comes, then he is grandstading. If he doesn't, he is being insensitive.

You are a biased fella Mr. Debonis.

Posted by: politicalrealist | June 22, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree with @ged0386. There is construction everywhere in DC. On Sunday, the Suntrust bike race was just plain dumb. Only a done-headed person would have a race on a Sunday, knowing that people attend church services during these hours. How dumb!

Posted by: fivetogo | June 22, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse


I didn't criticize anyone who showed up for grandstanding. If you think I'd criticize a public official for showing up to pay his respects to the victims of a public tragedy, you overestimate my cynicism. It's hard to do, I know, but it can be done.

Posted by: debonisma | June 22, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Get 'em Debonis! Great article - it was based on the truth. Fenty showed up late to this memorial service which is simply unacceptable. Glad you're reading the posts!

Posted by: bodymagicbykim | June 22, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I meant bone-headed.

Posted by: fivetogo | June 22, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Political realist, maybe you should change your name to "Adrian Fenty" because your schtick seems devoid of any political realism. If it did, it would at least be able to understand the political implications of being on time for the memorial honoring the worst commuting disaster in DC history.

With the previous perceived slight such as not attending the funeral of THE Abe Pollin, political reality calls for you to be on time. You can't, for obvious reasons, admit that. That makes your political reality clouded with marvels of Fenty.

There is no downside to attending this funeral. Grandstanding is making it about you.

Arriving Fashionably late makes you a DIVA is the female version of a...

Posted by: dcis1 | June 22, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: drfields | June 22, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Uh...who cares? Honestly. They are called elected officials, not...your...Dad. I don't care if Gray, Fenty, or anyone else shows.

I am amazed at the number of people who expect anyone elected to office to show up, 24/7 to give them warm fuzzies, to the exclusion of the actual job they do. I'm picturing colonials sitting around..."Oh sure George led the Continental Army to victory, and successfully navigated the first Presidency...but he didn't show up for the Ginsburg Bat Mitzvah...he's worthless!" Grow up folks, and get over your Dammy/Mommy issues on someone else'd time.

Posted by: janowicki | June 22, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

How much is Gray paying you for these ridiculous blogs?
You are a biased fella Mr. Debonis.
Posted by: politicalrealist | June 22, 2010 4:04 PM"

"First, there isn't any substance to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Second, Mr. DeBonis should leave The Washington Post and join Mayor Fenty's re-election campaign.
Posted by: robert158 | June 18, 2010 2:37 PM"

Fess Up, "DeBonis"!
You're a Dennis Sobin Stooge trying to subvert this election!

Posted by: bob_dylan_rocks | June 22, 2010 11:26 PM | Report abuse

I can understand Fenty's desire to be an elected leader who doesn't talk as much as he gets things done. I've had my own impratience with yackety-yack leaders who really don't have much of substance to say and don't get anything done either. At the same time though, there is a time for the Mayor to talk and show up at events that are meaningful to the people. He hasn't figured that out and found the proper balance. One of the most glaring examples to me is the fact that after taking control of the schools, which was a radical change for the whole city, and appointing a chancellor, he has spent no time in keeping the public informed as to how the new "governance" has been working. There has never been a time that I know of where he talked to us in person, in large numbers and explained the problems in DCPS and kept us up to date on the progress in their solution so we could all celebrate and have a sense of moving forward together in an incredibly important project. The difference in the way a baseball team and a stadium to go with it was handled and the way the school reform initiative has been are like day and night. Press conferences and press releases just don't "get the job done" when the office of the Mayor has undergone the biggest change in its job description ever. He has delivered his State of the District addresses in out of the way places that are too small to hold more than a couple hundred citizens, excluding all the rest of us from the opportunity to gather with our fellow citizens and personally participate in self-governance by learning a lttle of what's been done and what's ahead, and reduced them to a mere fact sheet with no context, not even any references to the previous Mayor's "program" which he claims to be continuing. That is an insult to the intelligence of We the People just as his lack of or late appearances at certain events is offensive to our sense of decency and our desire to be represented by one of the most decent among us. In the end, he has not modeled any different kind of Mayor but instead, just like many others, fooled people into voting for him and then abandoned them once he was in. There is nothing "new school" about that!

Posted by: 1citizen | June 22, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse

I just can't believe he wears a light colored suit to funerals and memorials. That alone is just rude. I like what he's done with the city overall but am starting to think he's purposefully trying to lose the election.

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | June 23, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

All of Fenty's human parts are dead. He is void of emotion and the ability to feel beyond his own needs. Ask yourself, what had Adrian Fenty done for anyone other than himself and his friends and cronies?

He has done all that he can to deterioriate services to the cities most vulnerable and during a recession.

If you recall, it was the Mayor that misreported the number of victims at the time of the crash although he was given the precise number.

Yes, the Mayor was on time to announce the opening of the silly bike lanes on Penn. Ave., to cut the ribbon at the latest $400,000 dog park, yet, wasn't available to attend the funeral of the man who ordered jets above the Nation's Capital on 9/11, killed in this tragedy, Retired Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr.

I'll say it again, Fenty will not be getting my vote.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | June 23, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Oh well. This year Fenty was late, left early, last year wore a light colored suit to the services for the train operator and Gray didn't show because he was at a briefing.

Where are our priorities? Marion sure as heck knew how to show up at funerals and memorial services even as the city sunk into receivership.

As I said before, where are our priorities?

Posted by: NewEra | June 23, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse


I would bet, when Fenty is out of politics we will read stories about how this guy just did not listen to his advisers. Yet, no advisor needs to tell him not to e late to a public memorial service and not wear a light colored casual looking suit. GD!

my retired, senior citizen mother decided to give the "young boy" a chance in the last election. My mother has already said she will not vote for Fenty simply based on his attitude, cockiness and mean spirit. She also questions his aptitude.
in an election where 85-90% of the voters are registered Democrats, positions and facts do not matter as much as voters perception and feel towards a candidate. I don't like Fenty, but the guy is killing himself.

Posted by: oknow1 | June 23, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

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