Diverse Majority's Choice Signals a New Era
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
An unusually strong majority of D.C. Democrats, including both blacks and whites, united behind a single nominee yesterday to replace a retiring mayor, giving D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty a broad mandate to pursue change in city government and the troubled public school system.
In nearly complete returns, Fenty claimed about 57 percent of ballots cast and led rival Linda W. Cropp by a towering 26,000 votes. Barring a general election upset in November, Fenty -- a 35-year-old triathlete with a shaved head, two BlackBerries on his belt and a reputation for round-the-clock customer service -- will replace Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the bow-tied technocrat who brought the city back from the brink of bankruptcy.
The question now is whether the Ward 4 council sophomore can translate election promises into government action. In other words, can he lead?
In an overwhelmingly democratic city where elections have long been fractured along racial lines, yesterday's results suggest that Fenty represents the long-awaited rise of a new generation in D.C. politics.
His sweeping victory, which echoed pre-primary polls, also marks a repudiation of the city's political establishment among Democrats: The mayor, the business community, the biggest unions and many of the city's old-guard black leaders all lined up behind Cropp, the council chairman.
Young, dynamic and native-born, Fenty appealed to families, small-business owners and progressive activists from all parts of town who expect him to reach out to those left behind by the city's economic renaissance, bridge a growing divide between rich and poor and rid the government of a deeply entrenched crony class.
"We're bringing in new energy, new ideas -- it hasn't been like this since Barry" in 1978, said Dee Hunter, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from the newly hip U Street corridor, where Fenty pitched a party tent for last night's victory celebration.
Critics worry that Fenty lacks the experience and intellectual gravitas to manage the city's $7 billion budget. And they fear that his hands-on management style and obsession with streetlights and potholes will lead him off into the weeds.
"Can he deliver for people, or are they just going to get frustrated? He's not going to be able to run the constituent services of the entire city off his BlackBerry," said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who campaigned for Cropp. "It just ain't going to work."
Fenty has pledged to come in with "guns blazing" to fix what he sees as lingering problems: dysfunctional agencies, an unresponsive police department and, at the top of the list, the city's troubled public schools.
The next mayor inherits a city at a turning point. Williams lifted the District out of insolvency and into an era of civic affluence and bureaucratic competence. The economy is booming, the population is rising and basic services have improved dramatically. Now voters want to shift attention to the poor and forgotten. Along with newcomers to gentrifying neighborhoods, they think better schools are the place to start.
Over the past year and a half, the state of the school system has emerged as a top priority for city residents. They have identified education as the city's biggest problem in nearly every poll conducted during the 2006 campaign.