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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 06/15/2010

Fenty's debate notes become D.C. campaign issue

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's heavy reliance on notes and briefing books during candidates forums appeared to undermine his efforts Monday night to keep the Gertrude Stein Democratic club from endorsing Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in the mayor's race.

Democrats Fenty and Gray spent more than an hour answering questions from the group, which later endorsed Gray with 63 percent of the vote.

The two candidates essentially agreed on most major issues of importance to the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. But Fenty, appearing uncertain of his views and his record, spent much of the debate reading from various sheets of paper supplied by his staff.

Although Gray also had a briefing book nearby, he rarely referred to it. In several recent candidates forums, Fenty has referred to written notes while he debated his opponent, even reading word for word from talking points as he attacks Gray's record.

The highlight of the Monday night's debate came when Fenty started criticizing Gray's record in fighting HIV/AIDS when he was director of the Department of Human Services under then-mayor Sharon Pratt in the early 1990s.

"I know why my opponent wouldn't want to talk about the early '90s, the fact of the matter is that's where your executive experience lies," said Fenty, referring to notes. "And if you look at some of the reports of the HIV/AIDS administration in the early 1990s, it is nothing short of an abuse of government money by staff and contractors, years on end without an HIV/AIDS administrator in place and layers of and delay... and money being dumped without a lot of results."

When Gray got a chance to respond, he said: "Just so you know, Mr. Mayor, I don't have any notes."

"It is not necessary for me to read every word off a piece of paper," Gray said, receiving a thunderous applause.

Gray then noted the Whitman Walker Clinic, which at the time was a health clinic for gay men and lesbians, gave him the "public administrator of the year" in 1992 for his work at the human services department in battling HIV/AIDS.

"Knowing Whitman Walker as I do, and you do, you know that is not a frivolous award," Gray said. "It was given very seriously."

But Fenty, who is trying to make Gray's tenure in the Pratt administration a major theme of the campaign, fired back at the chairman.

"As I read from my notes," said Fenty, as he held a piece of paper in front of his face. He then went on to quote Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who was director of the Whitman Walker Clinic in the early 1990s, saying in a 1994 newspaper article that Gray had not been vigilant enough in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Later, in response to a question about what steps can be taken to encourage more cooperation between the mayor and the council, Fenty sought to downplay the squabbles between him and council members.

"For each disagreement with the mayor and the council, we probably have 99 agreements," said Fenty, noting the city has legalized same-sex marriage and is experiencing decline in homicides and rising test scores. "You don't make these types of historic gains in the city without actually having a lot of collaboration...The one or two disagreements we have are dwarfed by the things we work together on."

Gray then stated, "it was absolutely ludicrous" to "suggest there was collaboration of any significant nature between the council and the mayor of the District of Columbia."

"Let me assure you the collaboration, you just heard about, I must have missed those meeting because those meetings do not exist," Gray continued.

Fenty appeared to find his footing during the debate when he was, once again, asked about why his administration formally recognized the leader of an organization that believes gays can be treated with psychotherapy.

"The fact of the matter is when you have a lot of people working for you, sometimes mistakes happen," said Fenty, appearing more emotional than he usually does in public "I personally and professionally apologize to every person in this room and every person in this city. It shouldn't have happened...I messed up. It's my fault...It's my mistake."

But Gray appeared to score points with the audience when he pledged to create a specialized police unit that is focused on issues of concerns to the gay community, such as hate crimes. Fenty defended Police Chief Cathy Lanier's decision to reorganize the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

When the debate shifted toward issues of a broader concern to the citywide electorate, Fenty's message was at times remains crisper than Gray's. Fenty said debate over whether Gray would keep Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee if elected will be the "biggest distinction" in the race. Fenty has pledged to keep Rhee, saying she is getting results when it comes to improving schools. Gray said he's undecided on Rhee's fate.

Fenty also appealed to the audience, made up of up about 100 members of the Stein Club, to consider "all of the progress" that occurred in the city since he was elected in 2006.

"What we have tried to show over the past three years is that the District of Columbia government and the city as a whole should be second in nothing," Fenty said during his closing statement. "This administration is focused on the future, maximizing the potential of Washington D.C. I would hope you would judge the administration on how we have tackled the city's most pressing issues."

To secure the endorsement of the Stein Club, Gray or Fenty needed to receive at least 60 percent of the vote. Since Gray won with 63 percent and there appeared to be only 100 votes cast, Fenty could have denied Gray the endorsement if only one or two members had switched their votes or pushed for no endorsement at all.

Rick Rosendall, the vice-president for political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, wrote on GLAA's blog last night Gray pulled off "a historic upset."

"Fenty read from notes, while Gray spoke without notes," Rosendall wrote. "What probably put Gray over the top, though, was how well he sold himself as someone with a history of working with the community and was more collaborative than the aloof Fenty."

--Tim Craig

By  |  10:54 AM ET, 06/15/2010

Categories:  Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig

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