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Dragging a Mayoral Contest Into the Muck

Later yesterday afternoon, Linda Cropp's campaign manager, Phyllis Jones, called to say that after talking to Cropp, she had something to add.

Jones said, "We hired a professional to do a public records check on Mr. Fenty, which is standard. We received the report and exercised judgment about what information is relevant."

Asked if her report was the same document I received, Jones said her report was not available so we could not compare the two documents. She added, "I have not seen the document you have, but our report contained information that we did not consider relevant." She said, "In the campaign information we put out, we only talked about the public record."

Now, before some of you conclude that this column is an attempt to portray Adrian Fenty as an innocent victim of poisonous politics, read on.

Fenty himself has been a beneficiary of negative campaigning. I wrote about it in a column that appeared on this page on Sept. 9, 2000. In Fenty's inaugural campaign for the Ward 4 seat against five-term incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis, two scurrilous postcards were mailed to 11,000 households on the eastern side of Ward 4 accusing Jarvis of allowing trash and rats to invade Georgia Avenue and chaos to reign in the public schools. The political action committee sponsoring the mailings, I learned through investigation, had listed a fraudulent address and telephone number, and its treasurer was little more than a front for the organization.

Fenty, when interviewed, said his campaign had no connection with the phony PAC that was behind the mailings. I later learned that the person responsible for the mailings was a friend of Fenty's and had organized a fundraiser for him only a few months earlier. So Adrian Fenty is not exactly politically chaste.

So what's the gripe?

Going negative, to be sure, has long been a part of American politics. And there are hard but fair ways to play that game. That's not the issue in this case. The problem is that anonymously financed negative campaigning has now made its way into District politics. That is in addition to this year's attack ads and demonizing mailings. What we are witnessing in this mayoral campaign is the corrosive effect of money. More than $2 million has been poured into the mayor's race, not counting undisclosed independent expenditures. That can pay for a lot of mischief.

The question is whether D.C. voters want or will tolerate that brand of politics. Voters aren't the only people on the spot. Will the media allow themselves to be used to do a campaign's dirty work? Worse still, is it too late? Has mean-spirited politics now become a fixture on the city's political landscape? What do you think?

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