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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.

By Marc Fisher |  June 2, 2009; 8:08 AM ET  | Category:  Adrian Fenty , Politics , The District
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Comments

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Someone has got to run. I don't care who it is as long as it's not Councilman Grey. fenty is "dirty" and was from the beginning. If you can make the ballot, I'll vote for you.

Posted by: lidiworks1 | June 2, 2009 8:31 AM

I don't know if Fenty is "dirty," but he's developed a sense of entitlement that's too dangerous for our mayor to have. I'm looking forward to voting him out.

Posted by: staxowax | June 2, 2009 9:24 AM

whoever it is has to have a broad appeal so it's not a us versus them election. Kwame Brown does not have the ballz to be mayor, when he votes present on key votes. Michael brown is simply ambitious, and need to build a track record of effectiveness. running a government is not easy, we need someone with some mgmt experience.

Posted by: oknow1 | June 2, 2009 9:57 AM

The pressures of living a double life can eventually be so wearing as to casue one to become "brittle".

What we have come to see is that there is no "there", there. Rather we have an arrogant and self entitled princeling who has surrounded himself with others of the same ilk. Look closely and what you see are a bunch of closeted narcissists.

How either Kwame Brown or Michael Brown would be an improvement, I fail to see.
What we need, as was amply illustrated by the Williams administration, is first and foremost a competent administrator, the job is chief executive after all. I say, "Marie Johns, phone home!"

Posted by: SoCali | June 2, 2009 9:57 AM

Fisher missed an important point. Most of the D.C. establishment figures and interests who were lined up behind Fenty's opponent Linda Cropp last time are now lined up behind Fenty. He's becoming the consummate insider, and that is exactly what many of us voted against last time. If we had wanted Linda Cropp, we would've voted for her. The arrogance may, in part, reflect Fenty's own recognition that he's become the establishment-backed pick.

And appointing the arrogant Peter Nickles was the worst decision Fenty has made.

Posted by: uh_huhh | June 2, 2009 10:01 AM

I thought you were going away?

Posted by: marybindc | June 2, 2009 10:16 AM

Neither of the Browns are mayor-quality. ESPECIALLY not Michael Brown. He is an empty suit and has no real qualifications. He should be ecstatic that he pretended to be independent and beat a nobody republican.

Posted by: sgrahamuva | June 2, 2009 10:39 AM

I don't know enough about Kwame to really trust him. As for Michael, he seems very nice, but I want to see some demonstration of mastery first.

But apart from those two, I'd rather see Harry Thomas, Mary Cheh, or Vincent Gray run.

Posted by: starclimber9 | June 2, 2009 4:28 PM

Marc this is really sad, you should know that anyone can lose at anytime.

Posted by: AJordanMBA | June 3, 2009 10:14 AM

Fischer you are quitting right in time to assume your rightful place in local politics, up the Mayor's arse.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | June 3, 2009 3:49 PM

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