Can Vince Gray compare his Rhee punt to Fenty's Ramsey punt?
At last night's debate at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, a recurring conflict between mayoral combatants Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray flared up yet again: Fenty slammed Gray for refusing to say what he'd do about schools chancellor Michelle Rhee until after the election. Then Gray accused Fenty of hypocrisy, claiming that in 2006 candidate Fenty said he wouldn't make a decision on a key appointee until after the election.
So what's the deal?
Gray actually cited his sources last night, pointing to a Washington City Paper article written by my gym buddy/drinking pal Arthur Delaney (though Gray name-checked him as "Arthur Daley"). In fact, I edited the piece, which ran on Nov. 2, 2006, about whether Fenty would hold on to Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
"We're not making any decisions on any cabinet-level positions until after the general election," Fenty said at the time.
Another Nov. 2 article, by the Post's Allison Klein, noted that Fenty said "that he would not make any decisions about cabinet-level positions until after the [general] election Tuesday." His quote: "I have to get elected first. ... Right after that, we won't waste any time."
So who occupies the high ground? Was Fenty punting on a tough question on Ramsey, as Fenty claims that Gray is punting on Rhee? Or was Fenty merely "saying was that we were going to make a full slate of announcements" at a later date, as Fenty claimed last night?
Couple of things to note: Fenty, at the time, had already won in the primary and was days away from his general-election coronation. Also, Ramsey was the closest thing to a Michelle Rhee of his day, the most controversial of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's top cabinet officials. That said, his tenure did not play anywhere near as high-profile a role in the 2006 campaigns as Rhee's does today. The other difference: While Rhee has made it pretty clear she won't be sticking around for a Gray administration, Ramsey didn't say one way or another whether he'd leave the city if Fenty won.
From the plain language of the quotes, Gray is right to say, as he did last night, that Fenty's 2006 punt "wasn't about announcing any decision." Fenty told reporters he'd be making the actual decisions after the election, not simply making the announcements.
But the context was different. Fenty wasn't being pressed on his intentions on a hot-button issue on the middle of the campaign; his election was fait accompli as of Nov. 2, 2006. The Ramsey response strikes me as a sop to reporters who wanted to know Fenty's intentions on one of his highest-profile appointments while he was still pondering his options.
Gray's position on Rhee, however, is an example of a candidate walking a political tightrope -- a candidate who needs votes from both Rhee proponents and Rhee opponents and needs to find a way to get them both.
And if you're a voter hoping that Gray and Rhee can somehow make amends if Gray wins the primary, the outcome of the Ramsey episode is not good: Fenty did exactly what people thought he would, firing Ramsey as his first major personnel move less than three weeks after Delaney and Klein's stories.
Or is it so bad after all? Fenty ended up appointing Cathy Lanier, now the most beloved government official in town.
File photo by Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post
August 25, 2010; 9:29 PM ET
Categories: Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray
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