Is Fenty Vulnerable?
Well more than a year before Adrian Fenty asks D.C. voters to grant him a second term, the mayor who won every single precinct in the District in 2006 suddenly seems just slightly vulnerable.
You'd be less than wise to bet even a halfway decent lunch on anyone coming close to Fenty in the 2010 election, but it now appears that at least two of the mayor's rivals on the D.C. Council are seriously considering a challenge. Both of the potential rivals are named Brown.
Yesterday, several politically connected folks around the city received emails from Marshall Brown, the longtime campaign consultant and strategist who worked closely with Marion Barry during the former Mayor for Life's glory years and happens to be the father of council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large.) Here's the text of that email:
Subject: Kwame Brown for Mayor Draft Committee
Would you lend your name to the Kwame Brown for Mayor Draft Committee
send this to your email list
Marshall Brown didn't return a message I left for him yesterday, but a couple of people who received the email told me that they believe the council member and his father are involved in a bit of elbow-sharpening competition with freshman council member Michael Brown (D-At Large), who recently told the Brookland Heartbeat neighborhood newspaper that "It's no secret. People talk about it all the time that there is going to be a race between me and Adrian."
Michael Brown, who lost two previous campaigns for mayor and council before winning last fall, has been open about his ambition to reach the District's highest office, and so has Kwame Brown, who was touted, at least by his father, as a future mayor before he ever won an election to anything.
But a year ago, nobody would have predicted that a challenge to Fenty would be worth any serious candidate's time or money. The mayor was riding high, criss-crossing the city with the same cheerful energy that got him elected. His big, sweeping reform efforts were winning him headlines and nationwide notice. His takeover of the city's schools got him mentioned in the same breath as New York's Michael Bloomberg and as one of the cluster of sharp young black politicians that includes Newark's Cory Booker and the leader of the free world.
Since last fall, however, Fenty has managed to add several dents to his smooth reputation. It wasn't just his tone-deaf decision to take a free trip to Dubai and attend a tennis tournament from which the government had banned an Israeli player. Nor was it the continuing spat between the mayor and the council over, of all things, the swag they get from the Washington Nationals in the form of free tickets to games. Nor was it the ever-more poisonous relationship between the mayor and the council on budget, school and other issues.
Rather, what made Fenty seem less invincible was the attitude with which he addressed any and all of those mini-controversies. Far from his old confident and genial self, he turned brittle and even snippy, responding to reporters' questions in a peevish manner that seemed out of character, barely communicating with some council members at all, and generally communicating the sense that he no longer believed in the transparency and accountability that he had preached during his campaign and during his early months in office.
Fenty and his staff argue that there has been no substantive change in his attitude or approach to governing. Some aides say the mayor is merely showing his frustration over news media that pay more attention to minor squabbles than to his top-shelf initiatives. Maybe. But the Fenty who parries with reporters these days is often brusque and brief where he was once helpful and engaged, and the man the mayor most often calls forward to handle detailed questions, Attorney General Peter Nickles, increasingly responds to tough questions with boilerplate about how whatever the mayor did was proper and necessary, end of statement.
Last week, when Fenty conceded he was wrong to have had a friend and city contractor drive the mayor's official vehicle around town, a Post editorial welcomed the apology as a harbinger of a new Fenty, who might sound and act a lot more like the one voters chose in such overwhelming numbers. Maybe with living and breathing challengers emerging, the mayor has decided to get back to his customer-service mantra that won him so much popularity in the first place.
At some level, Fenty must know that he's going to win next year virtually no matter what. Such knowledge could make a man arrogant. But don't be fooled into thinking that the mayor has somehow lost control or tired of his job. He still maintains a full schedule of appearances before every community group under the sun--this is a mayor who not only never stopped campaigning, but runs his administration like the manager of a just-in-time retail stocking operation, pushing agency heads to get stuff done almost as soon as the mayor reports back from the neighborhood meetings where residents make demands.
Council members Brown can certainly have some fun lunging at the mayor's slightly tarnished armor. But they're not going to pierce it--at least not anytime soon.
Join me Thursday for the last regular edition of "Potomac Confidential"--straight up at noon here on the big web site, where we'll talk about whatever's on your mind.
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