Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal is here, for a “fireside chat” with a Hewlett-Packard executive, comparing the challenges of conducting a war in Afghanistan to the challenges of “bringing together PC and printer groups” in a large corporation.
Super-lobbyist Heather Podesta is here, billed as “the insider’s insider,” telling attendees that their companies should be friends with their elected officials. “You’re like the shiny little object to a member of Congress,” she says, “because you’re the future.”
And Adrian Fenty is here. Adrian Fenty used to be the future — at least in the District of Columbia, where he was born and raised and served as neighborhood commissioner, city councilman and mayor.
As moderator for two sessions at the conference, Fenty introduces himself to attendees as “a new transplant to the West Coast” who has been “out here for the better part of a year.” His conference bio places him in the “visionary” category, as if the designation explains the last seven years of his whiplashed résumé: swept at age 35 into the mayor’s office on the promise of change, evicted from that office after one term of change that was too disruptive. More than half of District residents thought the city was moving in a favorable direction in the months leading up to the Democratic primary for mayor in 2010, and yet Fenty’s approval ratings tanked and focus groups found his leadership style offensive. That disparity — the gap between effect and affect — was his undoing. Fifty-four percent of Democratic voters went for his primary challenger Vincent Gray, nearly 30 years older.
Now, three years after being booted from the Wilson Building and 10 months after separating from his wife, the native son has gone into semi-self-exile from his home town. Fenty is seen around Washington now and then — chaperoning his twin sons as they train at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, getting a bite on 14th Street NW with former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, attending millionaire businessman Mark Ein’s glittery September wedding in Georgetown — but he is mostly gone.
Where exactly did he go?
The literal answer is Silicon Valley, where he’s fashioning a second act in a land that is more tolerant of brashness, of radical change at high speeds.
The vaguer answer, though, is somehow more fitting: Adrian Fenty has gone up into the cloud.
How green is the valley?
There have been only a handful of mayors of the District of Columbia, and all but one of them have remained rooted to their city after leaving office. Walter E. Washington, the first, became a partner in the D.C. office of a New York law firm. Sharon Pratt Kelly, the third, and Anthony Williams, the fifth, became and remain local consultants. Marion Barry, the second, later became the fourth and is the city councilman for Ward 8 through at least 2017, perhaps for eternity.