Adrian Fenty's gloves finally come off
If, in the past 18 months, you asked Mayor Adrian Fenty about his active reelection campaign -- his strategy, his opponents, and the increasing amounts of criticism he was taking from them -- he's given pretty much the same response: "We take nothing for granted."
But in all that time, he's taken plenty for granted -- not least of which is telling his own campaign narrative: In short, that he's the guy who's moving the city forward by any means necessary, and that his opponents are nothing but back-slappers and ankle-biters who'd take the city back to the bad old days.
As his campaign's shifted into full gear this spring, there have been a few signs of life.
At a May 15 mayoral forum in Ward 8, he made an oblique reference to politics as usual: "When I grew up in D.C., politicians made a lot of speeches. They said a lot of nice things, made a lot of promises, and told you what you wanted to hear. It sounded a lot like the things that have been going on in this room. But the results never followed."
At Wednesday night's D.C. for Democracy candidates forum, where he sat between Vincent Gray and Leo Alexander, he got a little more direct: "If we were electing a chief critic for the District of Columbia, I would probably recommend either of them. But we are electing a chief executive officer, and that means we need someone who can get things done."
He still didn't take direct aim at his critics -- a practice that, for the most part, has served Fenty well. He didn't have to go negative to whoop Linda Cropp in 2006, and he's kept the strong-silent-type approach to communications during his mayoralty -- even to the point of blatant insincerity. "This is the best council we've ever had," anyone?
So what, last night at a three-way debate in Ward 3, finally led Fenty to ditch the Gary Cooper act?
It started with a fiscal question, about Fenty's practice of taking city revenue dedicated to a particular purpose -- such as the proceeds from the 5-cent bag tax, which was to be used by for Anacostia River cleanup -- and using them for other purposes entirely (street-sweeping, in the case of the bag tax).
That prompted Gray to claim that the city budget just passed by the council wasn't balanced when it was submitted by the mayor. In a city not yet a decade past federal fiscal control, that's a stinging charge. Fenty later retorted that the city's chief financial officer had indeed certified that the budget was balanced.
The candidates were then asked the first thing they'd do as mayor. Said Gray: "The first thing I intend to do is to try and bring fiscal order to the District of Columbia once again. Let me repeat what I said earlier: The budget that came to the council in my opinion is not a balanced budget -- irrespective of the certification by the CFO." Because the 2010 and 2011 budgets dipped deeply into the city's savings, Gray said, he didn't consider them balanced.
Apparently the sight of Gray claiming to be a fiscal hawk was more than the Zen Master could stand.
The next question was a softball about improving the climate for small businesses. Fenty started his response by talking up the changes he's made in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Boilerplate.
Then this: "I just again have to go back to the question. ... It's not just the CFO who approves our budget and our recommendations. The Council of the District of Columbia has voted on our recommendations. So I don't know how you vote on exactly what we recommend and then come to these forums and say, 'Well, I disagree with everything.' If you're not going to find other ideas and alternatives during your day job as a legislator, then you can't, when you're running for office, be against all of them."
Fenty returned to the old-politics theme he hit last month in Ward 8, but this time with a twist. He went for Gray's jugular -- via his stint in Sharon Pratt's early '90s mayoral administration, and last week's streetcar flip-flop.
"When you talk about fiscal discipline, what are you talking about?" he said. "It can't be the early '90s when the Department of Human Services was the No. 1 agency that overspent its budget and caused the District of Columbia government to go into financial red ink and have the control board come in -- that can't be the fiscal discipline you're talking about. It can't be the shenanigans that were pulled around the streetcars the other day -- wherein we had a balanced budget, we had the streetcars completely paid for, and at 2 o'clock in the morning, the city council, drafted by Chairman Gray, took the money away only to use it to spend it on pork and other pet programs. And they found $47 million out of thin air and added that to the budget."
Gray wasn't very well prepared for the broadside. When he next rose, he attacked Fenty on his school chancellor's decision to fire a popular principal but he was cut off before he directly addressed Fenty's criticism of his fiscal management.
After the debate ended, the Zen Master returned. "All of my comments at the forum speak for themselves," he said, after he was asked what aspects of Gray's performance in the Pratt years might bear further scrutiny. "I have nothing further to add."
One more question: Did you go negative, Mr. Mayor?
"That's an editorialization," he said. "That's for you to make."
June 4, 2010; 2:32 PM ET
Categories: Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , Vincent Gray
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