Adrian Fenty for Mayor

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

THE NEXT MAYOR of the District of Columbia will inherit a set of conditions that are both unique to the nation's capital and daunting for any large city. Saddled with limited home rule powers and under the watchful eyes of Congress and the White House, the next D.C. mayor must respond to residents' demands for improvements in education, municipal services and public safety; foster social cohesion in a demographically changing city; and work with the D.C. Council to keep the District on a responsible financial course. That tall order calls for a smart chief executive with a commitment to all parts of the city, an appreciation of the inner workings of the District and the energy to work full time in behalf of its people for the next four years. We believe Adrian M. Fenty can be that kind of mayor.

Our endorsement is made with full knowledge that his principal competitor for the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 12 primary, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, has many of the qualities necessary to make a good mayor. Her breadth of experience in the District government as a teacher, counselor, school board president and council member sets her apart from Mr. Fenty and the other candidates.

We disagree with those who discount Mrs. Cropp's years of service as little more than time spent in failing government enterprises. While the school system fell short on many fronts while she was on the school board, the record will show that Linda Cropp was, in fact, one of the board's better members. A consensus builder by nature, she has been an excellent council chairman, providing direction to a fractious group and wise counsel to a mayor found often in political trouble. Her claim to leadership on the budget and financial issues is legitimate. Linda Cropp, as mayor, could keep the District on a steady course and out of serious trouble on Wall Street or Capitol Hill. She would be a safe bet.

But playing it safe is not the way to lead the District of Columbia or address its most pressing problems. Despite improvements under the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the machinery of government still does not work very well, especially for the District's most vulnerable children and adults. Visible signs of economic development and progress cannot mask an unhealthy estrangement of large segments of the community from the city's leadership. There also is turmoil among youth that curfews won't cure. Adrian Fenty understands all that.

The criticism from his opponents notwithstanding, there is more to Adrian Fenty than a youthful, energetic and politically ambitious grass-roots campaigner. There is a can-do quality in him that suggests the government can be reformed, that schools can be rebuilt and that institutions in this city can come together to improve people's lives. He offers a vision of the city that challenges the best in people.

His school modernization initiative is illustrative. At a time when most politicians were thinking small or not at all about the city's dilapidated school buildings, Mr. Fenty drew public attention to the problem with some well-timed media events. With the public mobilized, he introduced legislation with a price tag that prompted his colleagues to scoff. But his perseverance caused his detractors to sign on to the idea and find a way to finance the long-needed changes. Showmanship? We call that leadership.

As a council committee chairman, he has worked hard and without much fanfare to bring positive changes to juvenile justice. His oversight of the agency charged with caring for people with mental retardation has kept public focus on a long-neglected agency. Chastened by serious errors committed early in his legal career, Mr. Fenty now makes service to people and government reform the hallmarks of his work. We would expect that same dedication to be transferred to an Adrian Fenty administration.

WILL A Fenty administration make mistakes? Probably more at the outset than might be expected from the more experienced Linda Cropp. But there is reason to believe that his achievements will outweigh his missteps and that the District will be changed for the better as a result of his mayoralty.

Other Democratic contenders also have offered spirited challenges. Business leader Marie C. Johns, hampered by a lack of money and name recognition, nonetheless has left her mark on voters with her intelligence, ideas and stamina. The city has not heard the last of her. Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. made many people believers in the seriousness of his campaign. His message, however, never got through to voters. The same can be said of the other remaining challenger, Michael A. Brown.

The 2006 mayoral campaign is all about the District's future in a dynamic and uncertain environment. Democrats inclined to vote their fears may look elsewhere. A vote for hope, however, is a vote for Adrian Fenty.

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