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Fenty, Gray split business group endorsements


Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) picked up the endorsement of the Greater Washington Board of Trade Tuesday -- winning backing from a key regional business group that supported his opponent four years ago. But in a reflection of Fenty discontent in some corners of the business community, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce announced shortly afterward its endorsement of chief rival Vincent C. Gray.

Jim Dinegar, Board of Trade president and CEO, said that Fenty has "gone out of his way to work with the business community" as mayor and has particularly impressed with his strong record on regional cooperation issues. A chamber press release said that Gray offered "leadership abilities critical to propel the District toward its fullest potential." Gilbert E. DeLorme, a prominent real-estate attorney who chairs the D.C. Chamber's political action committee, declined to elaborate on the reasons for the endorsement, but said that the decision was "quite close."

The Board of Trade endorsement comes as a modest surprise: Fenty did not have the support of business interests in 2006, when he ran as a populist alternative to the establishment-backed Linda Cropp. But after his landslide all-precincts victory, Fenty has cultivated close ties with business leaders -- particularly in the real-estate development field and among the large regional employers well represented by the Board of Trade.

Still, among some city business types heavily represented by the Chamber, Fenty never made amends and further antagonized relations by hiking fees on businesses, signing legislation mandating employers provide sick leave, and not fully supporting the University of the District of Columbia.

The Board of Trade endorsements came after "extensive interviews" held Friday, Dinegar said, where each of the two top candidates for mayor and council chairman were questioned by a panel of board members and staff. DeLorme described a similarly grueling interview session held Monday for Fenty and Gray.

DeLorme noted that the chamber is engaged in broader city issues than theg Board of Trade. "The Chamber is clearly more D.C.-focused," he said. "The Board is a regional-oriented body."

Fenty's message played better with the Board, it seems. "He made it very clear that he made some very difficult decisions that were not popular," Dinegar said. "That really resonated with the business executives."

He won further plaudits, Dinegar says, for having "gone out of his way to collaborate" with the governors of Maryland and Virginia on last year's inauguration, the H1N1 flu crisis, Metro governance and funding issues.

Dinegar said his group has been "very pleased" with the performance of Vincent Gray (D) as council chairman and praised him for his "good fiscal understanding" and "perspective" on regional issues. "It simply comes down to the fact that we recognize the progress that's being made over the past four years, and we want to maintain that progress," he said.

Council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large), running for council chairman, also won a Board of Trade endorsement.

In backing Brown to replace Gray, there is again a modest amount of surprise: Key opponent Vincent Orange recently emerged from a three-year stint as a corporate executive himself, as a senior vice president at Pepco -- a seeming advantage in winning the endorsement of fellow executives.

But Dinegar said the board members recognized Brown's "good working relationship with us" in giving him its backing. He also noted Brown's service as chair of the council's economic development committee and his work on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Dinegar also noted that he and other board members were impressed that Brown had able to rack up the endorsements of most of his colleagues -- indicating an ability to build consensus.

"It doesn't mean Vincent Orange can't do it," Dinegar said. "It's just that Kwame did it."

UPDATE, 4:50 P.M.: The post above has been updated to reflect the Chamber of Commerce endorsement of Gray. DeLorme says the timing of the two was "pure coincidence."

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 29, 2010; 3:02 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , Kwame Brown  
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Fenty won last time with NO business endorsements. The key endorsement came from his claim that he was a "man of the people." He can't make that claim anymore!

Posted by: tacard1 | June 29, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

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