Fenty's Crime Vote Called Risky
Friday, July 21, 2006
Mayoral candidate Adrian M. Fenty's decision to cast the lone vote against an emergency crime bill Wednesday was characterized yesterday by fellow D.C. Council members and campaign observers as a surprising and possibly risky political gambit.
Fenty (D-Ward 4) said yesterday that he had resisted pressure to support the legislation to impose a 10 p.m. youth curfew, give police immediate access to some confidential juvenile records and install surveillance cameras in neighborhoods. Although most of his colleagues emphasized the urgency in taking action, Fenty said he believed that the measures would do little to make the city safer.
A spokeswoman with the mayor's office said it expected the council to send the legislation over in the next day or two and that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) would sign it into law as soon as possible. Fenty, who along with Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) is a front-runner in the mayoral race, said that it was a "knee-jerk" bill and that the city's elected leadership instead needs to demand more of the city's police department.
"I agree there is a spike in crime, but what the community needs the most is much better policing of the neighborhoods," Fenty said.
Fenty's decision to oppose the emergency package came despite repeated arguments by colleagues who said constituents want something done to combat the city's surge in violent crime.
"I thought it was a principled vote, but I think it will carry some costs," said Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), adding that he received several calls about Fenty's vote.
Fenty was joined by colleagues Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) in voting against an emergency declaration necessary to consider the bill, but Patterson, who is running for council chairman against Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), decided to support the final crime package with her colleagues.
Recently, Patterson cast the lone vote against increases in the city's police force. Much like Fenty on Wednesday, she had argued that strong leadership and better management of the current ranks would do more to increase public safety.
In the end, however, Patterson said she had decided that some action was better than none. "We did put a couple of things in there that were worth doing," she said.
Political observers said Fenty's move might have political advantages. In deciding not to support what he described as "feel good" measures, he created a clear distinction between himself and Cropp, whom Williams has endorsed in the mayoral race.
"I think it's a calculation more than a risk," said Chuck Thies, a political consultant who is working for candidates in this year's council races. "It's a smart political move, because for no other reason he stood out in a crowd of council members."
City residents' reaction to Fenty's vote reflected both points of view.
Kevin Hummons, who moved to the Petworth neighborhood in Ward 4 a year and a half ago, criticized Fenty's position. He said he frequently sees cars involved in drug activity circling his block. He said that cameras can be an effective deterrent and that he supports the effort to put them in neighborhoods.
"That makes my blood boil," he said about Fenty's opposition to the bill. "He should be doing all he can to make our neighborhood safer. And he's not."
Georgetown resident Elisabeth LaMotte said she had sent an e-mail to Fenty, Cropp and Patterson urging them to support the emergency crime bill. She said that Fenty was the only one who replied and that he said he would consider her opinion.
She said that even though he voted against the bill, she would still vote for him in the mayor's race.