Fenty Emerges From D.C. Pack

By Robert Barnes and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 23, 2006

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty has opened a clear lead in his campaign to become Washington's next mayor, according to a new Washington Post poll that shows that District voters are alarmed about crime, more despondent than ever about public schools and increasingly anxious that the city is heading in the wrong direction.

Seven weeks before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, the poll indicates a two-person race between Fenty, 35, a second-term council member from Ward 4, and longtime council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, 58. Among all Democratic voters surveyed, Fenty leads Cropp 39 percent to 31 percent, and his margin jumps to 10 percentage points among those considered most likely to vote.

None of the three other major candidates received more than 8 percent support in the poll; only about one in 10 voters surveyed say they are undecided.

The citywide race to replace Cropp as council chairman appears to be close: Council freshman Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) narrowly leads Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who took office in 1995, among likely voters, 43 percent to 38 percent.

The poll was conducted July 13-18 as a string of killings and robberies rocked the city and District officials declared a crime emergency. Not surprisingly, crime and violence rank as the city's biggest problems among 38 percent of voters. About a quarter of voters put improving schools at the top of the list, and 16 percent say their primary concerns are housing costs and affordable homes for the middle class and the poor.

Fenty, who was knocking on doors in Southeast Washington yesterday, said he was pleased with his showing in the poll and is not concerned that his front-runner status could make him a target for attack.

"I'm going to keep my campaign in the same strategy we've had from Day One, literally spending as much time as I can talking to voters in the District of Columbia," Fenty said. "We really subscribe to the philosophy that you take nothing for granted and you run a campaign as if you're 10 points behind."

Cropp, who was greeting voters in Ward 5, declined to interrupt her campaign schedule to comment on the poll. "It's a poll, not a crisis," spokesman Ron Eckstein said.

Despite Fenty's apparent lead, Eckstein said voters ultimately will distinguish "between a candidate with proven experience and an unproven candidate who doesn't even think there's a neighborhood crime problem," a reference to Fenty's decision to vote against the mayor's emergency crime package last week.

"Voters face a clear choice as they think about the stakes for our city," Eckstein said. "We're confident they'll choose Linda Cropp."

Whoever wins will face a conflicted constituency, pleased with the city's physical and economic resurgence but worried about its impact on the middle class and poor. Slightly more city residents say the District is on the wrong track than say it is headed in the right direction, the most pessimistic showing of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's tenure; six years ago, nearly 70 percent were optimistic. Only a third say that the quality of life is improving, the lowest number in a Post survey since Marion Barry headed a nearly bankrupt municipal government in 1997.

Public support of Williams (D) has dimmed as well. Although a majority still approve of Williams's job performance, his numbers have declined steadily since he took office. Most voters -- 55 percent -- now say they are looking for a mayor who will set the city "moving in a new direction" from the one Williams charted.

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