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Fenty pledges to 'change some things' in TV debate

"We know that we've got to change some things in the next term," Mayor Adrian Fenty told a regional television audience Wednesday morning -- his most forthright admission to date that his personal style has seriously alienated the voters he's counting on to give him that next term.

The comments came in an hourlong televised debate with challenger Vincent Gray on cable network TBD (formerly NewsChannel 8). The debate, in part, signals a transition in the mayoral campaign -- from rowdy, all-comers mayoral forums to a series of more intimate, more civil one-on-one debates between Gray and Fenty.

This tilt was indeed more respectful, more wide-ranging and more substantive that virtually any of the prior matchups. But little either candidate said was especially novel or surprising for those who have closely watched the campaign. The candidates sparred while seated around a coffee table with host Bruce DePuyt; Fenty, wearing a blue-suit/red-tie power ensemble, often took notes on a scratch pad while Gray, in a gray striped suit and lavender tie, assumed a more relaxed posture. Neither man pointed or much looked at the other during the course of the debate.

Fenty did have one advantage: Four of his 30-second 15-second ads played during the commercial breaks.

DePuyt launched the debate with a discussion of jobs and economic development -- especially in communities east of the Anacostia River where unemployment approaches 30 percent. Fenty touted a series of new development projects and recreation centers in Wards 7 and 8 and talked up his education reform initiatives as a long-term solution to joblessness.

Gray said Fenty was taking credit for projects launched before his term in office and said he wasn't doing enough to create jobs for D.C. residents. "The real barometer for people is being out of work," Gray said, calling high unemployment rates evidence of a "failed economic development effort."

Turning to education, Fenty seized on Gray's refusal to say whether or not he'd keep controversial schools chief Michelle Rhee as a "major difference" in the campaign -- calling his position "very telling in how much educational reform he would be willing to stomach."

DePuyt asked Gray if he agreed with Fenty that Rhee has been "transformational."

The transformation, Gray said, started with the council's approval of a mayoral takeover of the school system. Rhee, he added, "has led progress in our schools" but he said the challenge is "how we institutionalize education reform in our city so people recognize this is a sea change. ... Inevtiably, everybody's gone. Adrian Fenty's gone, Vince Gray is gone, Michelle Rhee is gone, everybody is gone."

Fenty and Gray moved on to spar over the city's budget -- in particular the fact that Fenty-proposed and Gray-approved spending plans have drawn hundreds of millions of dollars out of the city's "fund balance," or accumulated savings.

The spending, Fenty said, represented hard choices made during hard times.

"To talk about this budget without talking about the economic reality is not to understand how management works," he told DePuyt. "When I ran for mayor in 2006, I told people we weren't going to raise taxes. I told people we were going to live within our means. I had no idea that we would have these tough times that we are having economically." Fenty said he'd managed the budget "as responsibly as any place in the country."

Gray said his options for changing the Fenty budget proposal were limited, given the two-month period the council has to modify it. And he crucified Fenty for overspending his budgets in several agencies.

Fenty admitted the overspending but turned the question back on Gray, putting focus on his time as director of the city's human services department from 1991 through 1994. "Unlike the 1990s, when agencies overspent their budget and no one then came back and found solutions," Fenty said, "we find solutions."

That segued into a discussion of the Summer Youth Employment Program, which was overspent this summer for the third consecutive year. The D.C. Council voted last week against extending the program for a seventh week.

Gray called the summer jobs debate "emblematic" of an interbranch relationship gone battery-acid sour. He noted that he has not had a one-on-one meeting with Fenty in more than seven months. "You cannot run a city that way. There's always going to be tension between the executive and the legislature ... but there has to be communication."

The summer jobs question turned into an examination of Fenty's governing style, which many observers fault for Fenty electoral troubles. And the mayor admitted he needs to do some work, not that it would have helped save the summer-jobs program: "Anybody who criticizes me and says the mayor could do a better job including people, the mayor can listen better, I think all of those are valid criticisms. It's absolutely something I've got to work harder on in my next term." But, Fenty said, no "nicety" would have convinced the council to extend the program.

After a commercial break, Fenty was even more forthright: "We know that we've got to change some things in the next term. I talked about making sure that we're communicating better, that we're listening better. One of the things that's just obvious about me is, I focus so hard on just going 100 miles an hour getting things done. As councilmember, I think it was OK. ... As mayor, you've got to make an adjustment. I did not make that adjustment like I should have."

DePuyt put the personality question to Gray: "Why should we risk all of this progress just because some people have soured on Mayor Fenty's personal style?" he asked.

Said Gray: "People feel closed out, they want inclusion. ... I don't think there's a risk to the progress. I think in me they have someone who will include them in their government and people who will continue progress, make progress." He touted his role in passing mandatory early-childhood education and establishing a community college for the city.

Only at the end did the nasty bickering common to previous battles re-emerge -- after DePuyt asked Gray about the irregular award of tens of millions in parks dollars to contractors with close personal ties to Fenty.

"Cronyism at its worst," Gray called it.

Fenty, after delivering his standard defense of the deal, trained his sights on Gray. "The chairman's been critical of me, I'll return the favor," he said before explicitly casting doubts on Gray's executive stint at DHS.

And, he said just before DePuyt said goodbye to the TV audience, "If you really want to see cronyism, look at the lottery contract" -- a reference to the well-politicked procurement that the council long refused to approve.

"Which I recused myself from, Mr. Mayor," Gray retorted, and the back-and-forth continued as the cameras faded.

WAMU-FM has scheduled a live broadcast debate with hosts Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood for Aug. 18. The Washington Post, in conjunction with WAMU and WRC-TV, will also be hosting a one-on-one debate in the coming weeks.

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 11, 2010; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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Next: Fenty debuts negative ads, targets Gray's DHS record

Comments

Fenty is feigning a change in style because he knows his campaign already has one foot in the grave. He has spent 1.8 million as an incumbent Mayor and is still loosing support of the voters. Particularly, in his own ward. He is, again, trying to hoodwink the public into believing he is inclusive and transparent. It won't work.

In the 90's Fenty was facing the disciplinary board of the D.C. Bar Association. Gray needs to make that a point each and every time Fenty seeks to being up what Gray was doing in the 90's.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | August 11, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Hi DeBonis,

With all of the safety issues the Metro. The Mayor or Chairman Gray have been silent. The residents of the District deserves to know their current position and what plans do they have to address the unsafe conditions that we are riders face on a daily basis.

Posted by: krat | August 11, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Here are my reasons for voting for Anyone BUT Fenty:

After 10 years of increasing school test scores, scores declined last year
Only 15 schools in the District of Columbia this year met the annual goals of No Child Left Behind, down from 54 in 2009.

Fixing schools requires more than just a Diva firing “ineffective” teachers
Crime is up over the last 3 years
DC now has the highest city-wide unemployment in it’s history
Fenty has awarded his fraternity brothers $82 MILLION in illegal contracts that they were unqualified for
Fenty arrived into office with a huge budget surplus that he has turned into a large deficit
He has depleted our Rainy Day Funds so he could open $400k dog parks and heat his favorite swimming pool
He leaves the country without telling anyone or leaving any one as custodian of the DC government
He has police escorts close down roads so he and his friends can bike on them
His personality: Arrogant, selfish, stubborn, has a lack of compassion
He is unwilling to hear any different opinion and anyone that doesn’t agree with him
Fenty doesn’t consult with the community on ANYTHING.
Fenty has not held ONE news conference since becoming Mayor. Not one.
Fenty misses community meetings and simply says he “couldn’t make it happen”
When asked about a triple homicide, Fenty says “it could have been worse”
Fenty refuses to hand over any government records- has worst record of responding to Freedom of Information Act requests
Fenty is unable to play well with others- refuses to give City Council tickets to Nationals game
Fenty led a sketchy donation of firetrucks to the Dominican Republic. Don’t we need them?
Fenty has a poor record on juvenile justice and public safety- Kids that were in custody murdered DC Principal Brian Betts.

Posted by: DCResident3 | August 11, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

If Fenty gets reelected why would he change at all? What would be his motivation to change?

Posted by: Aerowaz | August 11, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

One question that should be put to the Mayor is why hasn't he allowed Directors to testify? And by testifying I mean that it goes beyond it's a personal matter and I can't answer that.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | August 11, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

What about the cab drivers of wards 7 and 8? What about their economic development?

Posted by: starclimber9 | August 11, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I don't watch Bruce DePuyt anymore because it's obvious he's a King Fenty supporter. Bruce DePuyt cannot be objective in the D.C. mayoral race because he supports King Fenty and his negative baggage that King Fenty has brought into political office.

Posted by: Ward4DC | August 11, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Can Fenty make a guarantee that Rhee will stay on for four more years?

Posted by: LukasWP | August 11, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

How progressive can Mayor Fenty be if he is stepping back to 1995 to hold Mr. Gray accountable for an ENTIRE CITY going into receivership. Mr. Gray inherited the fiscal nightmare that was DHS. He should be commended for creating the Department of Healthcare Finance and closing Forest Haven. Mr. Gray has always been forward thinking and fiscally sound in his judgments with respect to the Districts money. Very much like I will "not" blame President Obama for "inheriting" the fiscal nightmare that is this economy, why would I blame Mr. Gray for "inheriting" the nightmare that was DHS.
Now if we are going to starting looking at the public service records of these two gentleman then here are the facts surrounding Mr. Fenty that I consider a test of his character, integrity and leadership or the lack thereof.
Mr. Fenty's 8/31/2005 admonition from the DC Bar Counsel when Mr. Fenty was found to have violated Rule 1.1, 1.3(a), Rule 8.4(d), Rule 1.16(d); a ruling by Superior Court Judge Jose Lopez who issued the order referring to the case of Mr. Williams Hardy.
Mr. Fenty was appointed general guardian and conservator over William Hardy Sr.; Mr. Hardy had a credit union account where his retirement benefits were deposited. Various "unknown people" made numerous withdrawals from the account; a total of $22, 500 dollars was taken from the account.
Mr. Hardy later received $15,000 from Mr. Fenty, however, 1/3 of the money came from Mr. Hardy’s own account because Mr. Fenty said he "found" the money.
Now, I could draw many conclusions for this about Mr. Fenty's character and integrity except he has proven the limited depth of both by his actions while in office, this case is just the start of his corrupt behavior and is culminated by late night checks cut to Frat brothers, and settlements to same frat brothers made by the DC Attorney General on Mr. Fenty's behalf. So, excuse me if I take Ms. Pratt's words as proof of Mr. Gray's integrity, leadership and character and Mr. Fenty's own actions as proof of his lack of integrity, leadership and character.
The biggest issue for me is employment of District residents, and Mr. Gray is the only candidate with a jobs plan.
Financial solvency is also a main concern and Mr. Gray has managed the District’s budget much against the whims of Mr. Fenty and if it were NOT for Mr. Gray’s oversight and scrutiny, then yes, we would be headed back into receivership. If we don't manage our financial resources well, we will be going back to the broke years.

Posted by: lacairaine | August 11, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

The main thing that needs to change in the next term is the chief occupant of the Bullpen.

Posted by: ssmd11 | August 11, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

"Style", my [posterior]. As Emperor Adrian seems to like the 90s so much for his sound bites, here's an oldie-but-goodie (with only minimal tweaking) for him:

It's the corruption, stupid.

End the reign of Emperor Adrian and the Green Mobsters. Vote Gray.

Posted by: nan_lynn | August 11, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Saying he is going to change and acting the same way. What, are we going to see a metamorphosis the day after the election? Please, anyone, ask Fenty about providing dc residents information pertaining to contracts and Nickles' refusal of FOIA requests. Ask him for it now before the election. Tell us about the money. Four years of it.

Posted by: mjvdc | August 12, 2010 1:27 AM | Report abuse

Saying he is going to change and acting the same way. What, are we going to see a metamorphosis the day after the election? Please, anyone, ask Fenty about providing dc residents information pertaining to contracts and Nickles' refusal of FOIA requests. Ask him for it now before the election. Tell us about the money. Four years of it.

Posted by: mjvdc | August 12, 2010 1:29 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Fenty, It is not about your image. It is about your character.

Posted by: mjvdc | August 12, 2010 1:31 AM | Report abuse

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