Adrian Fenty was no Mike Bloomberg
I moved to Adrian Fenty's Washington from Mike Bloomberg's New York just a month after Fenty was inaugurated in 2007. There was a lot of excitement about the city's new mayor. He was young (the youngest ever), aggressive and promised to do things a new way. And Fenty adopted many of the ways of Bloomberg, for whom I worked as a policy adviser in his first run in 2001. The bullpen set up of his office. The singular focus on education. And a customer-service approach to dispensing city services through a 311 system. But time and again over the last four years I've been reminded that Fenty is no Bloomberg.
The one area where Fenty emulated Bloomberg with great success was in school reform. Both men secured mayoral control of schools. Both men selected no-nonsense schools chancellors and then backed them 100 percent as they took unpopular steps to shake up the bureaucracy, so that it worked for the benefit of the children not the adults. But after reading the autopsy on why he lost, 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.
Sure, Bloomberg did plenty of things that weren't popular. When he became mayor, he made it clear that the press wouldn't know his every movement on weekends as they did with his I'm-in-control-here predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. Finding out whether Bloomberg was at his house in Bermuda or London or Florida became a sport for the New York press corps. By contrast, Fenty took more than a few unexplained trips on someone else's dime and couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Bloomberg ended smoking in bars and restaurants over the objections of smokers, restaurant and bar owners and anyone else who didn't like his embrace of the Nanny State. More seriously, Bloomberg took office four months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and had to take politically painful but economically necessary steps to plug a $5 billion budget gap. By Nov., 2002, he jacked up property taxes by 18.5 percent to close a projected $6 billion gap in the coming years.
Through it all Bloomberg exhibited his characteristic crankiness. But he articulated clearly why he was doing what he was doing. Because he has his own plane and doesn't have to worry about the nightmare of commercial air travel, he can be back in New York City within two hours if need be. When it came to tax increases, Bloomberg was blunt during the city's fiscal woes. He argued that the city couldn't cut its way out of its deficit. The deep service cuts that crippled the city during the 1970s were not an option. Revenue needed to be raised. So, if New Yorkers wanted cops on the streets and trash picked up, they better just suck it up, 'cause we have no real choice.
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. Unfortunately, as he learned Tuesday night, no matter how much good you've done, if voters sense that you couldn't care less what kind of job you're doing or what they think, they'll send you packing.
| September 15, 2010; 5:49 PM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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