Fenty's First 100 Days: Can He Top This?
And on the 101st day, the mayor celebrated a historic voting rights victory in Congress and won the right to take over the city's school system. Well, actually, it was the 107th day, but who's counting? Yesterday was just one more in a whirlwind of action-packed days for Mayor Blackberry, who makes more public appearances per day than his predecessor made in an average week, enjoys a ridiculously good rep among wide swaths of the city's voters, and still manages to run in marathons and seem as if he has all the time in the world.
Adrian Fenty wasn't expected to have much of a honeymoon. And he's already had his fair share of scares, such as this week's near-loss of the city's financial guru, Natwar Gandhi, without whom the District could well be careering into bankruptcy once again. But despite widespread skepticism that Fenty's plan to take over the public school system will amount to much, and a general consensus that either the U.S. Senate or President Bush will quickly stomp all over the celebration of yesterday's victory for voting rights in the House of Representatives, the mayor is winning battles and making friends all over the place.
To be sure, Fenty's support is far from universal. Purists in the statehood movement protested Fenty's march for D.C. voting rights on Monday. They were miffed that the had mayor endorsed Rep. Tom Davis's plan to add one House seat for the District and one for Utah, to provide political balance and ease passage through Congress. (It was Davis, the northern Virginia Republican, more than any Democrat, who made this happen. He reacted to yesterday's vote like so: "As a Republican, I am not willing to bear the shame of failing to try to resolve this matter after 200 years. The Republican Party was formed as an answer to divided politics, political turmoil, arguments and internal divisions, particularly over slavery. We exist as a party to increase representation and liberty in this country, and in this world." Only 22 of Davis's GOP colleagues supported his bill.
A tiny but loud contingent of voters who seem satisfied with the grim status quo of the school system has fought the mayor's takeover plan tooth and nail. But Fenty easily won the blessing of the D.C. Council, which embraced the mayoral takeover by a 9-2 vote. And Fenty's handpicked successor is one of the top contenders in next month's special election to fill the Ward 4 vacancy on the Council; a candidate connected to Fenty is among the top tier of contenders for the Ward 7 vacant seat in that same election.
Although you do hear some grumbling from council members and other politicos around town about Fenty's peripatetic ways, that is at least balanced out by the accolades coming from the many community groups that get a sliver of the mayor's time each day. He routinely shows up to neighborhood meetings that draw as few as a dozen people--and those groups seem immensely grateful to see a mayor listening to them, something many of them felt didn't happen during the Tony Williams years.
Does the mayor's constant running about translate into policies and actions that those residents desire? Is the emphasis on public appearances stealing time away from the grittier work of budgets and personnel decisions and massaging the council?
So far, the mayor's political prowess has been sufficient to keep the council happy. Developers, who generally worried that Fenty would be way too slanted toward neighborhood concerns about too much building and gentrification, have grown to like the guy, though they still don't quite trust that he will be as supportive as Williams was. And from both the development business and neighborhood folks, there is some unease over the idea that Fenty seems to tell everyone what they want to hear. At some point, the mayor has to start saying No to some people, and that's the moment when both sides fear they will end up on the short end.
But Fenty seems intent on forestalling any such identification with one or another faction in city politics. And in at least a couple of instances, he's shown himself to be tough: In a meeting with tenants at a troubled housing complex near the Sursum Corda project along the N. Capitol Street corridor, the mayor told residents that the days of city government and other authorities telling them what would become of their lives and their housing were over. The choice was now up to them. Stunned residents pushed back, figuring that the mayor wouldn't come to their house if he didn't have a plan up his sleeve. So, they asked, are you tearing down our project or not? Fenty insisted, to the shock of his nervous aides, that he wasn't kidding, there was no secret agenda. It's your call, he said: The District will abide by your vote.
The future of the Temple Courts project is still up in the air, but the tenants came away from the meeting wowed and empowered.
So he's got the public piece of the job going nicely. Still, there was widespread grumbling about the slow removal of snow this winter, and the pace of preparations around the Nats' new baseball stadium is so painfully slow that many property owners in the area are fearing disastrous gridlock come next spring's Opening Day. The ballpark will be ready, but the streets, Metro station, and parking plan may be far from done.
The next 100 days will likely be more difficult for Fenty, as the honeymoon wears down and expectations begin to rise for the Education Mayor to do his thing (watch for Superintendent Clifford Janey to be shoved out before the start of school in the fall.)
What is the mayor doing right and how has he disappointed or messed up? What indicators do you see that should steer our thinking on his performance thus far?
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