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Adrian Fenty, anti-incumbent fervor, and the 'pundit delusion'


Venerable Financial Times reporter Jurek Martin weighed in Friday on the D.C. mayoral race. His column argues that while Adrian Fenty might be in the same trouble as other incumbents across the country, he's in trouble for unique reasons.

"This is a city where President Barack Obama remains popular, local Republicans can be counted on the fingers of one hand and the Tea Party could not borrow a spoonful of sugar," he writes. "In one sense, it is conforming to national type, in that its most important incumbent, the mayor, appears in trouble. But the reasons are entirely personal and local, which makes for an interesting, and refreshing, change."

But what if Fenty's troubles actually are the same as everyone else's?

In a conversation last week, one Wilson Building wag brought up Paul Krugman's New York Times column of last Sunday. It's about the "pundit delusion," which Krugman defines as "the belief that the stuff of daily political reporting -- who won the news cycle, who had the snappiest comeback -- actually matters."

Instead: "What political scientists, as opposed to pundits, tell us is that it really is the economy, stupid." And Krugman says a sluggish economy that refuses to add jobs is why Obama's stuck in the political mud right now.

Cue some soul-searching: As much as I may shudder to say it, and shudder I do, I suppose I'm a pundit. I swim in a shallow ocean of elected officials, staffers, flacks, bureaucrats, consultants, activists, commissioners, advocates, and fellow reporters, all of whom inhabit the small world where District of Columbia politics is daily life.

And the consensus of that Wilson Building chattering class is that Fenty's tumbling poll numbers, not to mention the booing and the hissing and all his other problems, are the result of his grating, arrogant personal style. That perception is no doubt fed by "the stuff of daily political reporting."

But what if Fenty's troubles are best explained in other ways?

Like the fact that city unemployment stands at levels not seen since the early 1980s. Last time we saw a spike even approaching this magnitude, Sharon Pratt got voted into office. It kept rising, and we all know what happened next.

And consider what leaders of the Washington Interfaith Network wrote in a Post op-ed this weekend: "Over and over we have heard from unemployed and underemployed residents who need and want to work. We have heard from people who have applied for job after job and been turned away. We have heard from people who have gone through training program after training program, only to find no job at the end of all the training." Meanwhile, Fenty is not going to great lengths to be known as a jobs-oriented mayor. He's not been shy in telling voters that his No. 1 focus has been a public education overhaul -- not employment.

That said, I'm not convinced that Fenty's problem is the economy, stupid. Not entirely, anyway.

Part of it is that D.C. is just too small of a place -- that things like handshakes and door-knocking and perception make a real difference in a way they can't for a president or a congressman. (See Nikita Stewart's fabulous story on Ward 4 earlier this month for evidence of how personal interactions can make all the difference.) The bigger part of it is that polls indicate that D.C. residents, by and large, feel the city's on the right track. But Fenty's approval levels don't correspond.

Then again, perhaps I'm just another deluded pundit.

Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

By Mike DeBonis  |  July 26, 2010; 1:27 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District  
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Voters don't cast their ballots for candidates they don't like. Fenty's biggest accomplishment so far has been making himself unlikable. His "grating, arrogant personal style" is not new. Power just gave him a greater opportunity to expose it more often to more people.

Posted by: learnedhand1 | July 26, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Fenty is not for the people, no affordable housing, working hard to push long time resident's out and crime is still high and continue to get higher with Fenty around...if no one has noticed, he is making sure the Whities are coming back, and making the Blacks are getting, out not buidling any affordable housing, let alone letting a DC resident, have the first option to purchase..let's vote him out, before the racial war begins!!!

Posted by: shadon1 | July 26, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Fenty is truely arrogant and aloof. However, that is his problem. Add to that incoherent, unethical and unintelligent, and you have a dumb spoiled brat that needs to be shown the door.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | July 26, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the bad economy and his arrogant style are key factors in voter discontent with Mayor Fenty. However, I believe that the bold outright corruption of his administration is ultimately the driving factor. Mayor Fenty's sweetheart contracts for his fraternity brothers are the primary reason he will be voted out of office. Under Mayor Anthony Williams the voters in DC grew to expect honesty in government. Adrian Fenty has utterly failed to deliver anything resembling integrity.

Posted by: ashafer_usa | July 26, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

And, the city is run by Peter Nickles.

Posted by: digluxe | July 26, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

shadon1 wrote: Fenty is not for the people, no affordable housing, working hard to push long time resident's out and crime is still high and continue to get higher with Fenty around...if no one has noticed, he is making sure the Whities are coming back, and making the Blacks are getting, out not buidling any affordable housing, let alone letting a DC resident, have the first option to purchase..let's vote him out, before the racial war begins!!!
OMG!...look out THE WHITES ARE COMING!!! Run! They're out to get us all!
Geez buddy, get a freaking life. Your post says an awful lot about you and really nothing about Fenty other than you expect the government, apparently the mayor himself, to do everything for you. You complain about crime - when crime as a whole has been going down; you complain about him not building affordable housing - the Mayor's office doesn't build housing now, does it? (rhetorical question) You all had no problem electing Mayor Crack repeatedly but you complain about Fenty not doing anything? Seriously? Seriously?
I know, I know, Whitey is keepin' ya down. The Man has it in for ya. Us crackers want what you got.... Whatever.

Posted by: overed | July 26, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Can we clone Wikileaks?

No really? This would be a perfect outlet for this administration.

$83million laundered to friends
- Issuing check for $2.5 million to Banneker Associates despite an on-going investigation
-No job plan for those who are un-employed in the District.
-Attorney General who enters into agreements providing financial payments to groups under current investigation by the city council.
- God Daddy Nickels aka Attorney General for City, yet never defends the citizens of D.C
-Peachoholics given funding without written contracts or results.
-D.C. Youth Facility inmates escape and kill D.C. residents
-Shut down the Department of Mental Health (who will mostly likely use the new hospital owned by the city)
-Firing Grace Wiggins types (meaning any D.C. civil servants who side with District residents seeking to keep their places of residents affordable)
- Pretty much denying any Directors to testifying to the council
-Nominating unqualified individuals to influential boards
-having a 75,000 heater installed in his favorite city pool
- having his name scrawled in super sized letters on the new soccer field
-using city money to throw a frat party
-Cut D.C. Fire Cadet Program (few programs that allowed 18-22 yr to become firefighters.
- Summer Youth debacle (years 2007 -2010)
-Peter Nickels refusing to make public the books on NCRC and AWC
-Fire Truck Scandal
-HIV rates climbed to the highest and federal money mismanaged (Bars HIV Director from meeting w/ HUD’s top brass.)
-400k doggy parks
-Maintaining friendships with Moten types who intimidate citizens and elected officials
-using police resources to stop traffic so that his friends can ride bikes

Posted by: thelildiva4u | July 26, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

It's NOT the economy, stupid.

King Fenty has shown himself to be a complete a &^%$ and people don't vote for &^%$s.

And Rhee just burned through the last of her political capital a few weeks ago with her blatant Hatch Act violation.

Posted by: hoos3014 | July 26, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

When Fenty became mayor he forgot that he was the public servant. He thinks that the public is to serve him. He has Humpty Dumpty Syndrome and all the kings horses(Rhee, Jack Evans, Catania, Peter Nickles, Bowser, Graham, Wells, Albert, Santos, Moten) and all the kings men(his money boys: Skinner, Omar, Lomax)don't have a clue how to put Humpty back together again. That's the easiest way to explain what's wrong with our "dimwitted" mayor. BTW: The WP termed him dimwitted in an editorial.

The horses keep their hoofs in the mud to do the dirty work, to suck up, to render harm to the citizens and leave him babbling after their blunders. They help him look stupid and out of touch. The men (money boys) put on a suit, pretend to serve the city and make millions in illegal contracts. The men serve to paint the picture of crook.

When the city is governed by the simple mindset of a Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme, it's time for grown folks to take it back and adequately take care of our seniors, our children, our tax dollars and to make DC feel like home again instead of a playground for fools.

Posted by: candycane1 | July 26, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

What poll? The polls cited here are over 7 months old. Is there going to be a poll? Straw polls are not real. Analysis of DC politics seems to solely revolve around anecdotal crap such as who got booed at an un-televised debate no one cares about, how many yard signs are up and whether a candidate rang a doorbell. How about a real poll of likely voters done scientifically. Then we will have a realistic, general idea of what voters actually think - then we can analyze facts about "the race." Things such as -- 'how many voters are undecided' or 'what is the projected turnout' - always seem to be missing from the local analysis of DC politics. Such information is the norm in other jurisdictions.

Posted by: MikeMIke3 | July 27, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

MikeMike3 Excellent point.

I have a feeling that the WP and others are conducting polls but are not happy with the results (namely Fenty's numbers going down).

If the WP thought for one minute that the results would indicate a victory for Fenty, we would see a poll a day.

If Fenty loses, the WP loses. They are making big buck with Fenty "school reform".

Straw polls may not count to some but it gives some indication how likely voters are thinking. Perhaps the number is small but we are not getting factual information from the media.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | July 27, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: drfields | July 30, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

Wow! It's the economy, great article.

Posted by: drfields | July 30, 2010 2:22 AM | Report abuse

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