Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his leading opponent in the mayoral race, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, discussed unemployment, public safety and schools during a debate at the Newseum on Wednesday afternoon.
Fenty repeatedly pointed to his administration's record on education, reducing the homicide rate and having safer streets. For his part, Gray hit the mayor on city contracts awarded to firms with ties to Fenty and what he called the administration's disregard for high unemployment in wards 7 and 8.
In one of the more revealing questions, which came form the audience, Gray said he was most disappointed that he and the mayor had not had a better working relationship, telling the audience that he and Fenty hadn't met one-on-one in eight months. Fenty said he was most disappointed in Gray's accusations of cronyism, saying the chairman was wrong about the amount of city contracts awarded to firms with ties to the Fenty administration.
The midday forum was one of Fenty's last opportunities to connect with large numbers of voters before the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. For Fenty, who lagged Gray by 17 percentage points among likely voters in a Post poll published Sunday, tactics and tone are crucial. Although many of those polled said they were pleased with the direction of the city under his leadership, the mayor's popularity is suffering from perceptions that he is disconnected and aloof.
For his part, Gray continues to hammer away at the mayor -- as he has since he launched his campaign -- arguing that he will bring "mature, seasoned, broad leadership to the city." Yet with early voting already underway, Gray has acknowledged he still has not rolled out much of his campaign platform.
Inside the auditorium, the Who's Who of the District's political scene were in attendance. Gray's chief council spokesperson, Doxie McCoy, sat in the second row. Mayor Fenty's attorney general Peter Nickles was in the nose-bleed section. Down in front were Fenty's chief booster, Ron Moten, and a group of teachers fired by DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The reserved section was home to Gray fundraiser Judith Terra and Virginia Williams, the mother of former mayor Anthony Williams.
The debate was moderated by The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, and was carried live on The Washington Post's Web site. It will be broadcast at 8 p.m. tonight by WAMU-FM and on Thursday on NBC 4.
For more on the debate and the mayoral race, see Mike Debonis's live online discussion with readers.