Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray were drawn into personal exchanges at Wednesday night's Ward 4 Democratic Committee mayoral forum, setting the stage for a nasty conclusion to this year's race.
During the rowdy event, Fenty opened up a new line of attack against Gray, accusing him of being unethical when he used his council stationary in 2004 to solicit a $20,000 donation from Comcast for the D.C. Democratic State Committee, and allowing work to be performed on his Hillcrest home by a contractor who had business before the council. Gray, in turn, took aim at Fenty for supporting a D.C. Voting Rights bill before Congress that also would have restricted the city's ability to set its own gun policy.
But with the crowd hooting and hollering as if they were watching a bar fight, the most heated exchange came in response to a question about affordable housing. In touting what he called the 11,000 affordable units built or preserved by his administration, Fenty accused Gray of trying to take credit for some of his administration's successes.
"They are very good at criticizing the mayor everything," Fenty, his voice trembling, said of the Council. "But watch how many ribbon cuttings they show up to. Watch how many groundbreakings they show up to."
Gray responded, "Actually, I show up to these groundbreakings to see how many of these projects you take credit for which you had absolutely nothing to do with."
"You went over to library openings in Anacostia and Benning Road and took full credit for that when in fact those projects were started long before you became major," Gray said as his supporters roared in agreement. But there you were taking credit for everything. You are the most credit-taking mayor I have ever seen in the District of Columbia," Gray said.
Fenty also was forced to answer a tough question about his personality from WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin, one of the panelists.
"Mr. Mayor, what happened to you?" Plotkin asked. "Did you have a personality transformation? You were warm, accessible, open and now people accuse you are being...difficult, autocratic and even tyrannical. What happened to you as a human being the last four years in terms of your personality?"
In a response that mixed both his campaign theme of getting things done with a touch of humility, Fenty pledged to "bring more people into the process" and "listen" more if he is reelected. But he said he will not apologize for a style that he says has shaken up the District bureaucracy.
"You didn't criticize us for not getting results," Fenty said. "Over the past four years, this government, more than anytime in history, has seen crime reduction, population growth, rising test scores, economic development, services for the poor, and we will not sacrifice results for anything else."
Gray countered that the mayor's insular personality, however, has hampered governing. He said he and Fenty have not met face-to-face in seven months.
"You cannot run a city that way," Gray said. "The first thing I will do is reach out the chairman of the city council and make sure we develop the kind of relationship that will move this city forward on a constructive basis."
But Fenty accused Gray of resorting to "irresponsible, emotional-based decision making." The mayor cited Gray's flip-flopping on whether to fund a streetcar project on H Street in Northeast. Fenty added that Gray's leadership style "drove the city into fiscal crisis" when he headed the Department of Human Services in the early 1990s.
At one point, both candidates were asked whether they would try to keep Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee if she asked to leave. With D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) shouting from the audience, "let her go, let her go," Fenty again stressed the importance of retaining Rhee. A visibly angry Fenty went on to accuse Gray of "taking a pass" instead of showing "real leadership" and responding to whether he would keep Rhee.
"The question around the city and everywhere around this country is, you're the chairman of the council, you oversee the education committee," Fenty shouted. "What have you been doing for four years. How can you not answer the question?"
In response, Gray noted that Fenty was quoted shortly after he was elected mayor in 2006 as saying he would not take a position on whether he would retain then Police Chief Charles Ramsey until after he was inaugurated.
"That is what I call hypocrisy," Gray said.