“Last December, according to multiple sources, [D.C. Mayor Adrian] Fenty kicked a trash can, slammed a door, and screamed, “I’m the fucking mayor,” after learning that some much-hated New Jersey Avenue NW billboards were being removed without his being present for a photo-op.”
Four years ago, then-Councilmember Adrian Fenty swept into the mayor’s office promising to take on the city’s biggest problems: an education system that was failing the city’s most disadvantaged youth; crime that, while lower than its 1990s peak, was still stubbornly high; and a city bureaucracy still weighed down by incompetence and entropy.
Big tasks demand big action, and big action is almost always divisive. It is not for the faint, and it is not for one who would be popular before effective. But, the work had to be done, and it is getting done. That is why V+V is endorsing Adrian Fenty for another term as the mayor of the District of Columbia.
Unfortunately for the mayor, personality has become a major component of this race. Were it based on results alone, he might win in a landslide, but his characteristic aloofness, irrationally protecting the privacy of his travels, proneness to outbursts, and famous aversion to taking advice has haunted him enough that, were polls to be a judge, he may not win reelection. He has also—either through recalcitrance, naivete, or by simply not paying attention—tripped into silly, and sometimes unsubstantiated scandals, such as refusing to share with the city council baseball tickets, donating a fire truck to the Dominican Republic, or engaging in cronyism by awarding contracts to personal friends or political allies.
We are, of course, concerned about these flaws, and they would be a major hindrance to our support for the mayor if they indeed interfered with the governance of the city. But, they have fed into an almost paranoia regarding the future of the city, and fears that Fenty’s policies may favor the few over the many. His top opponent, City Council Chair Vince Gray, has pounced on this fear, who has made at-best vague policy proposals but seems to be running solely on a platform of “One City.” When Gray met with the Washington Examiner editorial board, he mentioned, “Politically, I think he sees his base as over there, and he wants to maintain his base….That is not to suggest anyone’s a racist.” It’s a shame that Vince Gray, a dedicated and personable public servant, would stoop to such cynicism.
Again, we would be concerned if Fenty’s personality flaws, obvious as they are, overshadowed his results in the almost four years he has served as mayor, but they have not and should not. One would hope he was elected to bring results, and he has performed. Education is, by far, the most important issue facing this city, and Fenty has handled it masterfully and confidently. As promised, he mirrored New York City’s proved successful approach of bringing the school system under the purview of the mayor’s office and appointed a chancellor to push for and oversee progress. He appointed Michelle Rhee, young but experienced in urban education, who brought common sense to a school system that had for decades been a warehouse of inept teachers and principals and a stubborn bureaucracy. It was not a pretty process—firing teachers and closing schools never would be—but it has brought results. The proficiency rate of D.C.’s public school students in math has increased 17% since 2007, and 45% in reading.
A better education system is vital to the growth, vitality, economy of this city. It also is a major component of any push to lower crime, another success story for the Fenty administration. Fenty appointed Cathy Lanier, an improbable candidate, to lead the Metropolitan Police Department, and she has proven herself an excellent, if not inspired choice. Crime has dropped incredibly, which may or may not be the total credit to the police department, but the fact that the police department is closing three out of four cases—far and above the national average—absolutely is.
People are moving back into the city, and the population has exploded in the past decade (and not just because President Obama made D.C. “cool”). Instead of this new influx of residents overwhelming the city’s bureaucracy, the city’s various departments have been upturned and now work significantly more efficiently than before. It should be noted, in particular, Fenty’s inspired choice of Gabe Klein to run the city’s Department of Transportation. Klein, a businessman who formerly worked for Zipcar, smartly brought business acumen and strategy to a department that sorely needed it. While some could castigate his push for bicycle lanes or Circulator buses, these have resulted in less congestion on the city’s roads. The roll-out strategies, which favored action over community input, may be unpopular, but they have resulted in lanes being built all over the city efficiently and effectively.
The job is not by any means completed, but his second-term priorities are clear. He wants to continue fixing schools, which, while improving, are still substandard in many cases. He wants to fix the multitude of problems in public housing. However, the results that Fenty has fought for and won so far show that he is deserving of a second term, and give us hope for what he could accomplish.