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Did the economy doom Fenty?

fentysigns.jpg

This morning, I suggested that Adrian Fenty's horrible campaign -- he refused to even run polls -- implied that you could be bad enough at politics to overwhelm a fairly good record. But on Twitter, Ryan Avent disagreed. "Unemployment in DC peaked at 12% and was concentrated on groups that went overwhelmingly for Gray. Coincidence?"

Fair enough. I made the mistake of confusing the mayor's record with the lived experience of D.C.'s residents. Some things in D.C. are objectively better than they were when Fenty took office. The murder rate, for instance, is at a 45-year low. Test scores really are up under Michelle Rhee -- though the improvement is incremental rather than revolutionary (which is exactly what you'd expect). Property values are higher, though that also means people are getting pushed out. But the economy is awful.

unemploymentdc.jpg

Adrian Fenty ran for office in late 2006. Unemployment was in the 5 percent range. Today, it's at 10.5 percent. Other mayors -- like Los Angeles's Antonio Villaraigosa -- are surviving similar levels of unemployment, which is why I think you can't underestimate Fenty's aggressive disinterest in how voters actually felt about him. But you also can't ignore the fact that the economy is trashed right now, and effective incumbents are losing races all across the country -- and some of them are running much better campaigns than Fenty did.

Photo credit: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  | September 15, 2010; 12:41 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

Exactly. What we like to think of as an epic struggle for the soul of the city is more likely just a tail bit blip of global economic trends. But its our blip of course...

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | September 15, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

When I saw in the paper Monday morning that Fenty had spent Sunday competing in a triathalon, I felt like it was the perfect encapsulation of why he was going to lose. I'm sure young, well toned folks with lots of free time and disposable income think it's really cool to have a mayor who runs triathalons, but I suspect most middle aged (and 'better') women have the same reaction I do - that he is 'goofing' off (I would choose another word, but it triggers the Post's filter) and that the things that are important to him are not remotely the ones that are important to us. I have the same reaction every time I hear about Obama golfing. BTW, I am a lifelong totally committed Democrat, but I just feel like the Fenty wing of the part just doesn't get the importance of the need for both the reality and the appearance of empathy with the folks they are asking to vote for them. Of course, you are right that if unemployment were 1% and incomes were roaring upward, Fenty would have been fine, but given that he knew that waa not the case, I think that his own mistakes, not the economy, were the main causes of his downfall.

Posted by: exgovgirl | September 15, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

When I saw in the paper Monday morning that Fenty had spent Sunday competing in a triathalon, I felt like it was the perfect encapsulation of why he was going to lose. I'm sure young, well toned folks with lots of free time and disposable income think it's really cool to have a mayor who runs triathalons, but I suspect most middle aged (and 'better') women have the same reaction I do - that he is 'goofing' off (I would choose another word, but it triggers the Post's filter) and that the things that are important to him are not remotely the ones that are important to us. I have the same reaction every time I hear about Obama golfing. BTW, I am a lifelong totally committed Democrat, but I just feel like the Fenty wing of the part just doesn't get the importance of the need for both the reality and the appearance of empathy with the folks they are asking to vote for them. Of course, you are right that if unemployment were 1% and incomes were roaring upward, Fenty would have been fine, but given that he knew that waa not the case, I think that his own mistakes, not the economy, were the main causes of his downfall.

Posted by: exgovgirl | September 15, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The weak economy amplifies voter discontent but do voters really blame mayors for high unemployment in the US? Along the 'all politics is local' theme, based on the Post article cited in the morning Wonkbook, it was disregard for the voters who put him in office and sheer arrogance that led to his downfall, despite his accomplishments during his term in office.

Posted by: tuber | September 15, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

*I'm sure young, well toned folks with lots of free time and disposable income think it's really cool to have a mayor who runs triathalons, but I suspect most middle aged (and 'better') women have the same reaction I do - that he is 'goofing' off*

This was my impression, as well, actually, even though I'm a Fenty supporter. In the south, if you're a politician, you have to go hunting, drive a pickup truck, and watch NASCAR... even if you are just "pretending" to like that stuff. Even if voters *know* you're just pretending, the voters there like that you "show respect" for their lifestyle by imitating it.

Fenty, ultimately, with his penchant for bicycle riding and fitness, was implicitly showing a lack of respect for other parts of the DC community, because he was doing things that they don't do and sort of showing that he was not "one of them." Gray exploited that feeling of alienation that voters had from a fit, middle class mayor. It's sad that elections in DC are run that way-- it's really almost pre-modern and reflective of a broken political culture.

Fenty was one of the best mayors we've had (he's graded on a curve), but as is the case in many cultures, the nail that sticks up needs to get smacked down.

Posted by: constans | September 15, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Fenty's flaws have been there regardless of the economy. He was bad before and always will be. I'm glad he's gone and just wish we had someone good to replace him with. Please Congress, now is the time to retake control of the District and save all of us who live here from idiot local wannabe leaders.

Posted by: blankspace | September 15, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Fenty and Rhee doomed Fenty !

Posted by: ellislawoffice | September 15, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

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