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Fenty's loss

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If you were looking to disprove the view that campaigns are primarily about how well the economy is doing and whether objective conditions are getting better or worse, you couldn't do much better than Adrian Fenty's loss last night. The Post's amazing tick-tock of his terrible campaign makes a pretty good case that campaigns -- or at least some minimal interest in what the voters are thinking -- matter for reelection. Though as someone who trends towards structuralist explanations, I'd also like to see some analysis of how demographics and racial tensions shaped the outcome. Despite the two major candidates both being African American, there was a whole lot of race in this campaign.

The question for D.C., of course, is what comes next. Seyward Darby paints a pretty grim -- and all-too-plausible vision -- of school reform in a world where Michelle Rhee is taken off the job three years into her campaign. Two D.C. Council members are pushing Vince Gray to keep Rhee on the job until the end of the 2012 school year, calling it an "extended transition." But I agree with Colbert King that it's probably unlikely after Rhee publicly campaigned against Gray last week. Plus, Gray's union supporters did not back his candidacy only to have Rhee survive the election.

On the bright side, King indicates that Gray will keep police chief Cathy Lanier around.

Photo credit: Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 15, 2010; 10:42 AM ET
 
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Comments

Am I missing something here?

1) Fenty is elected.

2) Fenty does some very popular things in his city, including school reform and appointing a popular police chief.

3) But the economy just gets worse and worse.

4) Fenty is denied re-election.

To me, this sounds a pretty convincing PROOF (not disproof) of "the view that campaigns are primarily about how well the economy is doing and whether objective conditions are getting better or worse."

Posted by: Tractarian | September 15, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

You're missing that Fenty is a grade-A *sshole and that turned people off that would otherwise give him another go. I don't think the economy was as big a factor - people just didn't like Fenty anymore.

I still voted for him though because he's done alright and because Gray struggled to name anything specific aside from Rhees that he would do differently. And that won't be so bad if he turns out to be a better manager.

Posted by: lol-lol | September 15, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Gray made it about race and a personality contest. It was a good campaign strategy. Fenty is a great leader and drove things forward without waiting for the city council to make sure everyone got paid off. This caused most everyone on the council to dislike him, since he reduced their influence, and work against him. Sadly, this is likely to be a step backwards to a less effective DC mayoral office. I hope Fenty goes back for Gray's seat on the council and holds him to account.

Posted by: staticvars | September 15, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Admittedly I don't know any more about the whole Fenty/Rhee drama than what I saw on Frontline, but I do work in schools and I am painfully familiar with the brand of 'reform' that Rhee pushes. It's important to point out that the only real metric these reformers use to measure their success is test scores, which are just a terrible indicator of whether a student is really learning anything. I have students whose test scores went up on math but who still can't solve a basic story problem, and others whose scores went down as their actual skills improved drastically.

Another important thing to consider is this idea that of Rhee leaves or is replaced, all the great principals and motivated teachers who came to work with her will leave. If these people are as dedicated to school reform as they always claim, they should have no problem sticking around long enough to make that reform a reality. If all it takes to send them running for the hills is a change in leadership, it will prove their critics right.

Posted by: andrewbaron78 | September 15, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

The impression that I got was that the majority of the DC Metro's reporting on Rhee's school reform was largely negative.

Most of the coverage concentrated on Rhee's hamfisted negotiations with the council - who didn't like having their power usurped by an unelected administrator - and the huge number of teachers who lost their jobs in the process - rightly or wrongly.

That's what the voters saw, not any of the accomplishments the Washington Post editorial board tried to acknowledge through their endorsement of him.

Posted by: kiweagle | September 15, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

*Another important thing to consider is this idea that of Rhee leaves or is replaced, all the great principals and motivated teachers who came to work with her will leave*

Which is why she has to stay for the near term: the DC schools can't afford a crisis of confidence. There's no reason to expect that teachers should stay in an environment where they don't have the backing of the Chancellor or are considered vestiges of the old Chancellor's goals. The only thing that will work is keeping Rhee on for a bit and then replacing her with someone who shares Rhee's same vision. Otherwise the entire enterprise collapses and the schools head down the tubes.

Posted by: constans | September 15, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

*Another important thing to consider is this idea that of Rhee leaves or is replaced, all the great principals and motivated teachers who came to work with her will leave*


Except Rhee didn't hire a bunch of great principals and teachers. She hired a bunch of inexperienced principals and teachers and rules them by fear. Her Principals are getting fired or leaving voluntarily in droves and the teachers only make a commitment for 2 years and some leave before that.

Hearing some of the concerns people have if Rhee leaves makes me realize just how much people have been misinformed by the Wapo and national news spin.

Posted by: efavorite | September 15, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

What Tractarian said.

Also to expand on this (as a political scientist), our models do not show that things like candidate quality, campaign finances and scandals have no importance but rather that the economy has a major impact as well. All things equal, a poor economic environment means trouble for incumbents. You might have to search for other explanations were Fenty to have been REELECTED but his defeat is, well, overdetermined and solid evidence for nothing. Least of all is it a refutation of a theory for which it is positive evidence.

Posted by: micahdw | September 15, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
What happens in DC city politics has almost no bearing on national politics. You guys live in such an unreal cozy cocoon. Really, you should visit the rest of us from time to time. There's a depression going on out here. We don't have the luxury of throwing out good leaders because they aren't NICE ENOUGH.

You are such losers. The teachers' unions played voters for suckers and you all fell for it. Is our children learning? Not anymore...

Posted by: Clio1 | September 16, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

staticvars wrote:
“Gray made it about race and a personality contest. It was a good campaign strategy. Fenty is a great leader and drove things forward without waiting for the city council to make sure everyone got paid off.”

You Fenty sycophants need to get over yourselves. If only it were as superficial as the Post and Fenty-ites want to portray his loss.

Stop already with the revisionist history. Fenty did nothing--except move when puppeteer Bloomberg pulled his strings. AMF never had an original thought. He brought us Michelle Rhee and her very own special incendiary brand of “education rheeform.” He brought us the ridiculous situation with the taxicabs, again, thanks to Bloomberg.

Fenty actually broke a few things that had been fixed by the Williams administration. Can you spell long lines and longer waits at the DMV? During the Williams administration, processing took 30 minutes.

Gray did not make it about race or personality. Please stop insulting the intelligence of Chairman Gray and the electorate. A litany of Fenty’s transgressions led to his loss. Top of the list: lucrative contracts to his fraternity brothers and dismissal of appointees who did not rubber-stamp said contracts.

Then there is his appointment of Peter Nickles, whose sole purpose was to play “Dick Cheney” to Fenty’s clueless George W. Bush.

Fenty was nothing more than ambulance-chasing shyster when he was elected. Nickles aided and abetted him in circumnavigating the law. All to the detriment of the electorate.

If you want to believe the manipulated crime statistics and so called results from education reform, that is fine. I have some swampland I would like to sell to you.

Posted by: sheridaw | September 16, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

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