Did Free Trip Blind Fenty To Dubai's Bias?
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty says he went to Dubai for a week because, well, "I always wanted to go."
And hey, the government of the United Arab Emirates was paying for the trip. The mayor came home with a lovely gift, a crystal memento of his visit with the chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs for Abu Dhabi. Fenty and family even got to watch some of the Dubai Tennis Championships, one of the world's top tennis events.
So what's the problem with the mayor of the capital of the free world taking a week of R&R in the desert? Well, even as Fenty was enjoying the hospitality of his hosts, the Tennis Channel canceled its TV coverage of the tournament because of Dubai's decision to exclude "a single player who has been blocked from entering the country due to her nationality."
That would be Shahar Peer, an Israeli player who had expected to compete for the $2 million purse at the tournament. The Women's Tennis Association has fined the organizers of the Dubai championship a record $300,000 for denying Peer a visa to compete.
Plenty of other Americans seem to get the idea that countenancing discrimination is simply not acceptable. Tennis pro Andy Roddick, the defending champion in the Dubai tourney, pulled out, saying he won't attend because of the country's decision to exclude the Israeli player. Serena Williams, who plays for the Washington Kastles of the World Team Tennis league, said that she is obviously "not for discrimination. Everyone bleeds red blood and everyone should get an equal opportunity."
But Fenty, meeting reporters Monday upon his return to the District, had a different take.
"It's a very complicated international diplomatic situation," he told The Post's David Nakamura. "Concerns were raised. After Venus Williams won, she raised the issue and I think she talked for most people when she said she would have preferred if everyone was allowed to play. But by the end, they seemed to have resolved the matter in that they were going to allow an Israeli to play in the men's tournament."
Indeed, an Israeli man, Andy Ram, was granted a visa, but the matter is hardly resolve. Peer remains blocked--and that was enough to get the Wall Street Journal's European edition to drop its corporate sponsorship of the tennis tournament. "The Wall Street Journal's editorial philosophy is free markets and free people, and this action runs counter to the Journal's editorial direction," the newspaper said in a statement.
(Newsweek, which is owned by The Washington Post Company, is also a sponsor of the tournament; an editorial in The Post said that "the only appropriate action for the Women's Tennis Association and the tournament's corporate sponsors [including Newsweek, a part of The Washington Post Co.] is to take the tournament elsewhere next year unless every legitimate competitor is admitted.")
What was Fenty really doing in Dubai? Supposedly it was a business development trip--but I'll buy lunch for the first reader who identifies any new jobs that come to the District as a result of this trip (a new PR man for the Emirates' Washington office would not count).
Better question: Would Fenty have bailed out of the trip, or at least skipped attending the tennis tourney, if he had not been beholden to his hosts? Maybe I'm being too kind to the mayor, but I think he would have at least thought hard about finding some other form of amusement in Dubai rather than watching the tennis match--if he'd been paying his own way.
Reporters are forever making big deals out of politicians who take free trips, and that can sometimes seem small or picayune. But this is exactly the kind of situation where accepting a large gift can flip in an instant from harmless gratuity to a very icky sense that you have been bought.
(Fenty was highly critical of former Mayor Tony Williams' frequent travel to fancy destinations back when Fenty was a council member from Ward 4. Williams was a far more frequent flyer, averaging close to one of three days on the road some years during his mayoral tenure. "The mayor of the District of Columbia should be in town as much as possible to make sure the city is being run correctly," Fenty said during his 2006 campaign. Fenty even said in 2004 that Williams' wanderings were one of the chief reasons he decided to run for mayor: "It's really gotten ridiculous. He's completely disengaged from the workings of government.")
Yesterday, Fenty sounded more than a little uncomfortable as he struggled to respond to questions about his trip. "We talked about everything from how's the family to how we do our jobs, tips and advice on how to do things," Fenty said when asked what he talked about with his municipal counterparts in Abu Dhabi.
But there's no need for Fenty to be in a squirm situation. He could have done the right thing by not attending the tennis games. Or, even better, if he wanted to take his family on vacation in the desert (there's no accounting for taste), he could have paid his own way. That's what council member Adrian Fenty would have advised just a couple of years ago.
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