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DeMorning DeBonis: Sept. 16, 2010


There's lots to be said about Vincent Gray's sweeping victory Tuesday -- er, Wednesday. But the day's talker is sure to be Courtland Milloy's column, which gets at the sort of catharsis seen in voters' decision to send Adrian Fenty packing. It's sure to enrage anyone like, well, like Megan McArdle. Read Courtland for a sense of how the rest of the city feels: "Watch them at the chic new eateries, Fenty's hip newly arrived 'creative class' firing up their 'social media' networks whenever he's under attack: Why should the mayor have to stop his work just to meet with some old biddies [Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou], they tweet. Who cares if the mayor is arrogant as long as he gets the job done? Myopic little twits. ... What happened Tuesday involved more than just the unseating of a mayor with an abrasive style. It was a populist revolt against Fenty's arrogant efforts to restructure government on behalf of a privileged few. The scheme was odious: re-create a more sophisticated version of the plantation-style, federally appointed three-member commission that ruled the city for more than a century until 1967. ... So people went to the polls and politely delivered a message: Most residents actually believe in representative democracy, thank you very much, messy though it may be."

AFTER THE JUMP -- why Fenty lost -- whither Rhee? -- AFT spent $1 million to oust Fenty -- BOEE explains what took so long -- Nickles says he's out soon


WHY FENTY LOST -- First off, if you haven't read Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman's A1 dissection of Fenty's feckless re-election campaign, do that now: "Across the decade in which he shot to the top of the city's political pyramid, Fenty relied on unrelenting energy and a well-honed internal compass - his gut - to navigate three elections and the often treacherous complexities of running a big city. ... As the 2010 Democratic primary campaign arrived, the mayor's instinct told him that his accomplishments would far outweigh complaints that he seemed aloof and uncaring. Overhauling the school system meant something, he told loyalists. Building swimming pools and soccer fields affected people's lives. His handpicked police chief was popular across the city. When it was time to vote, the mayor was confident, the substance of his administration's work would trump all. How Fenty came to squander that success and the goodwill that catapulted him to office is the story of a mayor who misread an electorate he was sure he knew better than anyone, who ignored advisers' early warnings that key constituencies were abandoning him, who shut out confidantes who told him what he did not want to hear and who began to listen only when the race was all but lost." Another postmortem, from TBD: "D.C. was used to failure. That, it could forgive. What it just couldn't abide was a mayor who didn't want to hear his own city. This hard truth Fenty didn't fully understand, until it was entirely too late." Fenty said yesterday that he does not plan to seek public office again.

TRANSITION BEGINS -- "On his first day as the District's presumptive mayor-elect, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said he plans to spend the next two months trying to 'heal' a city that seems sharply divided by race, class and geography," Tim Craig and Ann Marimow write on A1 today. "Gray and the mayor split the city's eight wards evenly, and in the District's most racially homogenous neighborhoods, Gray won by 4 to 1 margins in black areas and Fenty won by 4 to 1 in white areas. Gray, who faces nominal opposition in the November general election, said Wednesday that he will reach out to Republicans, independents and Democrats who didn't vote for him to assure them that he will not 'turn back the clock' to the era of inefficiency and corruption that many associate with earlier D.C. administrations. Over the next two months, Gray plans to hold town hall meetings in all eight wards, highlighting his 'one city' campaign theme and his reputation for soliciting a broad range of opinions before making decisions. Gray also unveiled a Web site where residents can leave him messages." And now he has to bring his disparate coalition together. One example: "Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said his organization endorsed Fenty but is eager to work with Gray. Dinegar said some business leaders remain wary of Gray's close ties to unions. 'He's seemingly all in with the unions,' Dinegar said. 'We're hoping to collaborate. This cannot become a union town.'" Also: "Gray's closest advisers are bracing for a crush of inquiries from job seekers, including some who were laid off by Fenty. ... [Jack Evans] said the challenge for Gray will be how to deal with all the groups who come to him saying: 'I supported you. Where's my share?'"

THE TEAM -- "Many Gray friends and advisers say they expect him to assemble a team including veterans of past administrations and fresh faces. In an interview with The Washington Post shortly before the election, Gray said voters should look at the type of people who ran his campaign for clues about whom he would ask to serve in government. Several of Gray's top hires in the campaign where unconventional: He hired Adam Rubinson, who had been deputy chief technology officer for former mayor Anthony A. Williams, to be his campaign manager even though Rubinson last ran a campaign two decades ago. ... Rubinson could be in line for a job in a Gray administration. Reuben O. Charles II, 41, a wealthy venture capitalist who lives in Wesley Heights, also could play a key role in a Gray administration, perhaps becoming chief of staff, said people familiar with the campaign. Charles, a native of Guyana who moved to the District three years ago after starting his career in the Midwest, spearheaded Gray's fundraising effort. Charles helped Gray raise $2 million by aggressively targeting young professionals, many of whom had ties to African and Caribbean immigrant communities." More on Charles; some other names tossed around: Former CTO Suzanne Peck, Stan Jackson, Robert Bobb.

WHITHER RHEE? -- Now on to the other big postmortem inquiry: Whither Michelle Rhee? Start with Bill Turque's Post report today: "While some of Gray's council allies are seeking to delay Rhee's departure, she said that it was 'not necessarily the case' that it was in the best interests of D.C. schoolchildren for her to stay in her job through the end of the school year. And she sent an e-mail to central office staff that some recipients believed had a valedictory tone." That e-mail reads: "Nothing about yesterday's election lessens the urgency we need to continue to deliver amazing results for our schools. There are 45,000 children depending on our ability to do what we do well every day. I know you won't let them down." You, not we. Bill also reports that Rhee-positive council members Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells are trying to negotiate an "extended transition" to keep Rhee around until school ends in 2012, though Gray was noncommittal -- "I don't think anybody believes he has actually made a final decision on this," said a Gray adviser. Rhee, meanwhile, told MSNBC that she feels "somewhat bad and guilty" for Fenty's loss. TBD puts Gray's Rhee dilemma this way: "Now, he has to answer the question." Yesterday, a poorly sourced tweet announced that Rhee had already resigned, in a short e-mail sent to DCPS staff; turns out it was just a post-election buck-up-the-troops message. TBD was all over it. NBCWashington writes: "It is hard to see any scenario in which the D.C. Public Schools czar will stay on under Mayor-apparent Vincent Gray. Asked by CNN's John King if he will keep Rhee on, Gray replied, 'Well, we'll see.'" Both Bill and Mike Allen, in his Politico Playbook, relay the following Rhee comments from a discussion that followed a screening of "Waiting for Superman" yesterday: "Let me not mince words, and say that yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating. Not for me, because I'll be fine. And not even for Fenty, because he'll be fine, too. It was devastating for the children of Washington, D.C. ... The biggest tragedy that could come from [the] election results is if the lesson that people take from this is that we should pull back. ... That is NOT the right lesson for this reform movement. We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday's election is: Now is the time to lean forward, be more aggressive, and be more adamant about what we're doing."

WHAT IT ALL MEANS -- The general question is wrapped in this Christian Science Monitor headline: "Vincent Gray beats Adrian Fenty: What does it mean for school reform?" Another version, from ABC News: "With Mayor Adrian Fenty's Ouster, Will Michelle Rhee Still Run Washington Schools?" NewsHour's John Merrow, who chronicled Rhee's tenure from its beginning, notes that the Fenty loss put the Rhee reform effort "in limbo." And from the New York Times's Ian Urbina: "[Fenty's] defeat ... raises questions and suggests lessons about school reform efforts on a national level. It highlighted, for example, the risks of using private money to promote local educational changes, and how quickly winds can shift in a city if the mayor who controls the schools is voted out. It also showed that becoming a national symbol for school reform cuts both ways. 'The lesson here is that the reform agenda cannot get ahead of the politics,' said Joseph P. Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College in New York. 'We saw this before in similar cases in Baltimore and Detroit where many people identified with the people who worked in the school system and they thought they were unfairly bearing the brunt of the reform. ... It is great to become a national symbol. But it's the voters in your city that you need to keep on board if you want your agenda to go forward.'" Also WUSA-TV, Education Week, GOOD.

PUNDITRY -- Dana Goldstein, writing for the Daily Beast, makes the broad claim that Fenty's loss "has everything to do with the debate over Fenty's aggressive school reform efforts." She draws national lessons: "[S]ignificant segments of the public -- including the urban public school parents who have the most potentially to gain -- are skeptical of the White House's school reform agenda. .. While many in the media champion these policies, school reformers so far have failed to make the case to communities, who see their local schools not only as student achievement factories, but also as storehouses of community history, sources of jobs, and even repositories of racial pride." Matthew Yglesias writes on his blog: "Rhee unquestionably ended up doing this city a disservice with her habit of spending more time courting a nationwide constituency than on painful block-by-block selling of her message in skeptical communities. The fact that she packaged this posture up as an 'I don't do politics' persona was part of the misguided sales job and not a real reason. But the other is that to a large extent I think the Fenty campaign simply never developed a real message about why it was doing what it was doing." Harry Jaffe writes at Washingtonian: "Now that Adrian Fenty has lost the election, she will need a lot less protection. And new Washingtonians ... might start to reconsider their commitment to D.C." Edu-reform wonk Rick Hess at National Review draws this lesson: "Transforming dysfunctional systems inevitably entails fierce pushback in the schools and communities -- especially in the African-American community . In places like New Orleans and D.C., even black parents who welcome many of the school improvements are concerned about the influx of 'outsiders' or question whether reform needs to be so tumultuous. For would-be reformers to succeed in the long run, they can't merely rely on test scores and graduation rates to win the debate -- they need to address such concerns and explain why their harsh medicine is necessary. They need political cover and aggressive efforts to make their case to parents and voters. Even Rhee, perhaps the closest thing to a superhero in schooling today, couldn't do all this on her own. No one backed her heralded efforts with the requisite muscle or organization, and the consequences are now clear." From a New York Post editorial: "Here's the lesson for kids: Never underestimate the power of teachers unions, And: Their win is your loss." The Post's Valerie Strauss writes on her blog that communications wasn't the issue, exactly: "To the extent that Fenty's fate was tied to Rhee's performance, it would be wise to remember that communications lapses were the least of her problems. Failing to tell the truth on a number of occasions about major efforts is more to the point, as is pushing forward some reforms that make no sense, the biggest one her IMPACT teacher evaluation system.."

FROM OBAMALAND -- Arne Duncan speaking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN, who asked him why President Obama didn't go to bat for Fenty: "Well, I think the president had elections all over the country, and I don't know if he can endorse in every situation. But speaking personally, we've been extraordinarily pleased with the progress here in DC. As you know so well, Wolf, for probably decades, the school system here on the nation's capital was frankly an embarrassment, horrendous results for children. And over the past three years, we've seen remarkable progress. And I give the mayor and the chancellor tremendous credit for having the courage to move the system in the right direction. ... [T]he courage showed by Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee have been fantastic. Their reforms have to continue here. D.C.'s made tremendous progress. Clearly has a long way to go. And that progress cannot afford to stop."

UNIONS STEP UP -- Politico's Ben Smith reports that to defeat Fenty, the American Federation of Teachers "spent roughly $1 million in contributions to a labor-backed independent expenditure campaign -- also supported by the public workers union AFSCME -- and on its own extensive political operation," citing a "Democratic political consultant familiar with the details of the spending." Smith adds that the "election may serve as a political shot across the bows of other urban officials considering similar policies," though Randi Weingarten "sought to downplay its role in the election, and denied that the union had targeted Rhee."

WHAT HAPPENED TUESDAY NIGHT -- Yours truly covers the aftermath of an Election Day that saw scattered polling problems and long waits for tallies, with the Board of Elections and Ethics striking back at its critics: "Gray and others heavily criticized the Board of Elections and Ethics for delayed poll openings, long lines and, most especially, an agonizingly late final count Tuesday night. [Cheh], whose committee oversees city elections, accused the board of 'colossal mismanagement.' But in a special meeting Wednesday, Togo D. West Jr., the board's chairman, struck back. 'If you're going to use the term mismanagement or gross mismanagement where there has been neither mismanagement nor any gross behavior,' he said, 'then you need to be very careful about your facts and about the people about whom you speak.' West said board executives had done yeomen's work under a crushing mandate to implement early voting, same-day registration and a host of new machines all at once. Responding to West's criticism of her comments, Cheh said: 'I don't know what to call that other than mismanagement. It's supposed to run smoothly. That's the way I see it.' ... [Evans] joined the chorus disparaging the elections board Wednesday, calling the late results 'inexcusable.' 'You can't even have a victory party anymore,' said Evans."

POST EDITORIAL -- The Post's editorial board weighs in on Gray's victory: "We congratulate him and wish him success. Mr. Gray was not our choice; we believed that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty deserved a second term to continue his important work in reforming schools and modernizing government. But Mr. Gray ran a campaign with passion, organization and resilience. If he brings the same qualities to city governance, he will be off to a good start. ... It's true that Mr. Fenty helped defeat himself, by waking up too late to the resentment many voters felt toward what they perceived as the mayor's arrogance. But to cast that as the whole story would underestimate Mr. Gray and the power of his appeal for a city that can do better for all of its citizens. It was a message that resonated with residents struggling in neighborhoods east of the river and with those who feared they were being supplanted by gentrification. ... Mr. Gray promised that he won't turn the clock back on the city's progress, and he emphasized his commitment to school reform. We hope that he can work toward his stated goal of 'one city' without losing the impetus for change that has benefited the city and its residents during the past three years and nine months." Tom Toles appears to be pessimistic:

FENTY WAS NOT BLOOMIE -- Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart explains why "Adrian Fenty was no Mike Bloomberg." Writes the ex-Bloomberg adviser: "I couldn't help thinking that Fenty learned all the wrong lessons from his mentor. Bloomberg was able to get things done not by fiat or simply because he thought he was doing the right thing. He worked his relationship with the City Council and key constituencies. He didn't just let results speak for themselves. He spoke about them often and made sure the press was there to report on them. Most importantly, he listened to staff and advisers when they felt things were going off the rails. ... There was another thing Bloomberg had going for him: a multi-billion-dollar bank account that buttressed his "I don't need this job" independence. Fenty's problem was that he seemed not to want the job."

WHAT'S IN STORE -- Alan Suderman writes in his post-election Loose Lips column: "A mayor hasn't arrived at the Wilson Building with a base east of the river for a long time. (Actually, forget the river; it didn't take that long for Fenty to lose his own base east of Rock Creek Park.) LL doesn't share the whispered fretting of some Ward 3 types that Gray will roll the clock back to the 1990s. But watching Marion Barry hold court from a sofa in the hotel lobby, perched next to Cora Masters Barry, besieged by well-wishers, the chasm Gray now faces between the hopes of his supporters and the fears of his opponents seemed enormous. After all, Fenty racked up margins in white neighborhoods that rivaled the ones Gray put up in Ward 7 and Ward 8. (That's still not a path to victory in D.C., the incumbent learned a little too late.) Some white voters who visited with Gray on the campaign trail told LL afterwards that Gray came off as kind of a phony, a typical insincere 'politician.' Whether he can overcome that label will probably go a long way in determining how successful he is as mayor." Martin Austermuhle's DCist thoughts: "Gray has never been as bad as the caricature that was created of him. Is he going to be a little more deliberate than Fenty was in making decisions? Maybe, but being thoughtful surely has its place in municipal government. When we spoke to Fenty last week, even he seemed to think so -- some of the hardest reforms, he admitted, the very ones that take a hard-charging mayor to impose, have already been made. Now it's a matter of fine-tuning and institutionalizing them. Gray will be good at that. As for his ties to the District's old political guard, well, even that was an accusation that didn't really fit. ... [Y]ou can only really be so close to the old guard if [Cheh] endorses you."

NICKLES SOON TO EXIT -- Peter Nickles "plans to announce either his retirement or resignation within the next 30 days," reports Legal Times' Jeff Jeffrey. The attorney general "said he plans to 'stick around' long enough to ensure that 'the reforms we have implemented during the past three years and the pending cases we have are appropriately handled.' ... Nickles said he has received 'a lot of different calls' from prospective employers in the private sector, but he has not decided what he wants to do. 'In light of my age and my continued good health and the number of people who want to put my expertise to work on their behalf, there are a lot of options,' he said." He gives WBJ's Ben Fischer his thoughts: "Gray doesn't want me, and I don't want him. ... So it's mutual, so it's just a question of time." He doesn't plan to return to Covington & Burling, he says. Jason Cherkis and I will both miss that fabulous Darrow Montgomery shot of Nickles' adjusting his tie with middle finger extended.

AT-LARGE JOCKEYING BEGINS -- Kwame Brown's ascension to the council chairmanship means a special election next spring for an at-large seat, and before that, a temporary appointment from the D.C. Democratic State Committee, Ann Marimow writes at D.C. Wire. "Even though the special election is many months away, the jockeying has begun among those interested in the temporary appointment to Brown's job, according to David Meadows, executive director of the D.C. Democratic Party. The 82-member Democratic State Committee will be charged with choosing Brown's successor. Some of the possibilities include: Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5); former Parks and Recreation director Clark Ray; state committee chairwoman Anita Bonds; former at-large candidate Adam Clampitt, Ward 1 committeeman Stanley Mayes; and Ward 8 Chairman Jacque Patterson." Kriston Capps, writing at, alights on Bonds' name and the prospect she might be chosen by the body she leads. Keep in mind that the local blogosphere is familiar with Bonds from her role in denying a liquor license for Big Bear Cafe. Also: This was Vincent Orange's concession text message: "CM Brown, I've been trying 2 reach u 2 congratulate u on your victory. Your cell is off. Congratulations! I look forward to working with you for a better DC.:)"

MENDO SURVIVES -- Recapping Phil Mendelson's escape from the Michael D. Brown challenge, Austermuhle writes at DCist that Mendo "can rest easy now, but in four years, should he choose to run again, maybe he should think to spend some of his campaign war chest earlier on to dissuade questionable strategies like the one Brown was trying to pull." Do read P.J. Orvetti's comment at "I had been a fan of the man who likes to be called "Senator Brown," but who Councilmember Tommy Wells has dubbed "White Mike." I found him to be a friendly fellow who was a passionate advocate for D.C. statehood. But as his campaign for council went on, it became clear that Brown was cynically capitalizing on voter confusion. In the last days of the campaign, he employed intentionally opaque robocalls and campaign mailers, and he insisted -- right up through interviews yesterday -- that name confusion was a non-issue and that people were voting for him because of who he was. Brown practiced deception against District voters for his own ends, and hoped we were too dumb to notice. Thankfully, he was wrong about that. But he has lost all credibility and any claim to respect. Perhaps he should resign as shadow senator."


Voice mail of Eleanor Holmes Norton soliciting donation is leaked, blows up in conservative blogosphere (Big Government)

Erik Wemple on how Fenty lost the media (TBD)

TAP's Adam Serwer looks at how every anti-gay-marriage candidate failed miserably (American Prospect)

A plea to keep Cathy Lanier (Security Debrief)

Even Capitol statue bill getting held up by gun politics (D.C. Wire)

By Mike DeBonis  |  September 16, 2010; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike , The District  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: Sept. 17, 2010


Hmm ... Togo West should resign, not get snippy. Does anyone believe BOEE managed election returns well?

Clark Ray to fill Kwame's seat? Is that because he showed he could win less than 10 per cent District-wide and finish third behind a walking joke? Ray was a terrible DPR director and a lousy candidate, too. If you want to argue about this, look at the returns.

And the bloggers want to give Phil Mendelson campaign advice for next time? Please! The way I read the election returns, Mendo the Meek won more total votes than Gray, Fenty, or Kwame. Also he came from 12 points behind in an end-of-August poll to win by 26 points. Yeah, he really needs advice from guys who type with their thumbs while they aren't sucking them.

Posted by: reader2501 | September 17, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

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