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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 09/ 1/2010

Live-blogging the Fenty-Gray debate

By Martin Austermuhle

Local Blog Network participant Martin Austermuhle is live-blogging today's one-on-one D.C. mayoral debate between Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray here and at DCist, his home site.

1:35 p.m.: All told, the debate was more of the same. Fenty focused on results, while Gray stressed that he'd be more inclusive. But the big takeaway is the post-debate media scrum, where Michelle Fenty spoke on her husband's behalf, and quite emotionally. "I feel compelled to speak because there are so many misconceptions about him," she said while choking back tears. This is truly the first time she's made such a public appearance, but it's hard not see it cynically -- is she just trying to pull at the heartstrings of the electorate? It may well have worked.

12:59 p.m.: Closing statements, Gray first: We live in a city divided. Fenty has embarked on an apology tour -- but it's not a change of heart, but rather a change of strategy. I'll produce jobs, reform education with community involvement, put more police on street, will end pay-to-play politics. "As mayor, we'll be partners," he says to residents.

Fenty next: "Mr. Chairman, your closing, like your campaign, has been negative," he begins. Says that he never imagined that people would dislike him, since he just wanted the best for them. Success isn't enough -- "In moving fast, we're leaving people behind." Asks residents to believe in him for another four years. Snap judgment? Fenty's closing was much better than Gray's.

12:54 p.m.: Each candidate now gets to ask the other a question. Fenty to Gray: How do you run the government while owing so much to so many people? Gray responds: you make decisions based on what's best for the people of the District. Gray to Fenty: Why did you fire Bill Slover from the D.C. Housing Authority, and would you apologize to him? Fenty responds: Slover did not send contracts to D.C. Council, as D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said he should.

12:51 p.m.: Sherwood to Gray: How will you keep your friends and associates from becoming your cronies? Gray brings up $82 million in contracts that went to Fenty's friends, says he'll keep distance between him and his friends. Fenty responds by citing a Post editorial arguing on Fenty's behalf. Audience question: What annoys you most about your opponent? Fenty goes first. Calls Gray "sincere" and "well-minded," but criticizes Gray for throwing out false allegations, also says Gray needs to answer questions on the fence around his house and other such insider deals. Gray is annoyed by not having a working relationship with Fenty.

12:46 p.m.: Robinson asks why personal relationship with mayor is important. Better results come from cooperation between executive and legislative branches, he says. Things will slow down without that cooperation, he adds. "It's not about a personal relationship ... it's a business relationship with the mayor," says Gray. Fenty says Gray isn't accepting responsibility for mistakes made.

12:43 p.m.: Question from Madden: How will Gray pay for his new plans, including birth-to-24 education? Gray says pre-K has already been paid for, and lots of savings can come from changing special education in the District, which costs more than $250 million a year. Fenty again stresses gains made in school reform process. Stewart asks Fenty to identify two specific mistakes he made over last four years. Summer Youth Employment Program, says Fenty. Efforts to grow program quickly "stretched" ability of D.C. government to handle it. Doesn't cite second mistake. Gray says Fenty has refused to meet with him, would have loved to have a partnership. One mistake, Gray says, is that Fenty has not had relationship with D.C. Council.

12:38 p.m.: Sherwood question on mayoral appointments, notably those that have been voted down. D.C. Council has ignored "advise and consent" role, says Fenty. He rattles off people in important positions that were appointed and confirmed, and remain in their positions. Gray says that there are unqualified candidates being nominated for boards and commissions.

12:36 p.m.: Question on juvenile justice: Should parents be more responsible for their kids? Gray says no evidence backs up that punishing parents will help. Also says that new youth jail is too small, not enough community support when kids get back home. Fenty points out that legislation that went before the D.C. Council called for New Beginnings Center to be 60 beds, criticizes Gray for former leadership of old Oak Hill detention center.

12:33 p.m.: Audience question on ... parking. Really? Ugh. Fenty says you need to find balance between cars and other means of transit, cites Gabe Klein's work at DDOT. This is actually a winning point for the mayor, at least from the urbanist perspective. Gray calls parking rates "outrageous," firmly appealing to the car lobby. Boo! Does express concern over loss of business due to expensive parking, but also supports looking at alternative modes of transit.

12:30 p.m.: Robinson question on D.C. voting rights. Gray says he'll work with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. "We need to make pursuing statehood a priority," he argues, saying it won't be any harder than a single House vote. (Well, that's certainly debatable.) Gray talks about rejecting "poison pill" gun amendment. Fenty says Gray is "pointing fingers," says that D.C. has to do new things to get voting rights. And there it is! Fenty brings up Gray's leadership of Department of Human Services in 1990s, crowd murmurs and laughs. Not really relevant. Robinson follows up, why would statehood happen now? Not enough commitment yet from the people, Gray says. (That's true.) In retrospect, Fenty says single House vote deal was a mistake.

12:27 p.m.: Madden question: How do you expand tax base without gentrification? Gray says getting people off of unemployment rolls. Stresses vocational training, community college. Fenty fires back: D.C. has always had high unemployment, especially in Wards 7 and 8, due to bad government and poor schools. Nikita brings it back to race: How do you feel not being liked by the black community? "Of course it hurts," says Fenty. "Maybe I moved too fast, maybe I was too aggressive," he adds, trying to explain why black residents might not like him. "The facts say that the mayor doesn't care," responds Gray. Returns to jobs theme.

12:21 p.m.: Eugene Robinson asks about racial divide. Fenty touts the tough decisions he's made, but some of the decisions have left certain residents out of the process. He admits he hasn't been as inclusive as possible. Promises to change in next administration, return to the unanimity seen in 2006. Gray brings up the economy, notes that many people feel left out. High unemployment in Ward 7 and 8, nothing has been done to address getting people back to work. Says Fenty did not use $4.6 million fund to get people back to work.

12:19 p.m.: Online question on affordable housing. Gray talks about inclusionary zoning (more than 10 units, some of it has to be affordable). Says regulations took too long to come out of the Fenty administration, threatening affordable housing. Fenty returns to results, mentions affordable developments that he's helped get built. 11,000 units during administration, he claims.

12:16 p.m.: Question from Tom Sherwood on Mayor Fenty's personality. Why should residents re-elect someone who doesn't respect them? Fenty brings up his Ward 4 council member career, stresses results after four years as mayor. In second term, he promises to listen more. "A lesson learned," he claims. Gray calls Fenty "insincere." He says, "I don't think it's a change of heart; it's a change of strategy."

12:13 p.m.: Question from The Post's Nikita Stewart. Give an example where you've said no to special interests. Marriage equality, says Gray. He supported it, some of his friends and confidantes did not. (Including Ward 7's Yvette Alexander.) Fenty brings up Fraternal Order of Police support for Gray, and the fact that they want Chief Cathy Lanier fired, even though she's popular.

12:09 p.m.: Second question, also on Rhee, this time from WAMU's Patrick Madden. What mistakes has Rhee made? Fenty says that he and Rhee have moved fast and aggressively. Doesn't really answer the question. Gray says the biggest mistake is the exclusion of the public from the reform process. Another mistake was how the teachers were let go late last year, under the guise of a budget deficit.

12:08 p.m.: First question on transparency from Tom Sherwood. How will Gray find a new schools chancellor, if Michelle Rhee is fired or leaves? Gray says he supported reforms throughout, but questions should be raised throughout the process. Gray says he'll talk to Rhee if he wins to see what her views are and if they can work together. Fenty praises Rhee, criticizes Gray for not having the leadership to say if he'll keep or fire Rhee.

12:05 p.m.: Gray and Fenty on stage. They hug. That's a first.

11:50 a.m.: Live from the Newseum, the auditorium is filling fast as debate time approaches. With Mayor Adrian Fenty trailing by as much as 17 points, it will be interesting to see what approach he takes against D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray. Does he stick to the early campaign message of results, results, results? Or does he keep with some of the more aggressive attacks on Gray's record? We'll see.

Martin Austermuhle blogs at DCist. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Martin Austermuhle  | September 1, 2010; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. politics, HotTopic, Local blog network  
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I hope the Washington Post conducts a serious investigation over Fenty's response to the question about Bill Slover.

That answer alone should disqualify him from this race.

Posted by: LukasWP | September 1, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

@LukasWP--Srsly, what was so bad about what Fenty said? That was waaaaaaay too inside baseball for me. Fenty had a typed-up answer that he pulled out and read. For a question about Slover? Huh? Fenty said, "He did not send contracts to the Council, as we'd requested, so we demoted him from chairman of the board/commission." That's a firing offense? Why?

Just askin' 'cos I don't know. Seemed like a wasted opportunity by the frontrunner.

Posted by: Trulee | September 1, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps a wasted opportunity, but the scenario is much worse than portrayed by the Mayor, and doesn't even jibe with what they were saying this spring:

There is fire here in terms of the Administration shifting monies out of the Council review - something Mr. Slover wasn't willing to play along with. To now claim otherwise is simply an outright lie.

Posted by: LukasWP | September 1, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

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