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Business Community Falls In With Fenty

By Elissa Silverman and Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 14, 2006

When Adrian M. Fenty plunged into the crowd celebrating his victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday night, three business leaders were waiting by the stage to be among the first to shake his hand.

Hours before, they had been sitting in a hotel suite with Linda W. Cropp, Fenty's chief rival and the recipient of the enthusiastic endorsement and financial backing of the District's business establishment.

After Cropp's defeat became evident, Barbara Lang of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and James C. Dinegar and Samuel A. Schreiber of the Greater Washington Board of Trade accompanied Cropp to her concession speech. And then they drove to Fenty's victory party.

That Fenty won despite being opposed by some of the city's biggest unions and business organizations has raised questions about what kind of relationship the business establishment can expect to have with a Fenty administration. Their opposition to Fenty was so overt that, in the campaign's final weeks, business groups bought ads in newspapers urging voters to support Cropp because "We've Come Too Far to Start Over Again."

Yesterday, both sides were talking about moving on.

"I'll seek their input," Fenty said when asked if he would work with business leaders. "I would be foolish not to want to know what the business leadership is thinking. There are no permanent enemies in my book."

Business leaders were eager to bury the hatchet, and quickly.

"We had to go and congratulate the winner," explained Lang, president of the chamber, who said the institution had not endorsed the Ward 4 council member because it did not "have a lot of experience working with Mr. Fenty."

Even though Fenty has a record of opposing projects important to the Board of Trade, such as the $611 million stadium for the Washington Nationals, Dinegar said he anticipated a good working relationship. "In that he has campaigned on accountability and running the city like a business, there's no better community than the business community to assist him in achieving his goals," said Dinegar, president and chief executive of the board of trade.

If he wins in November's general election, Fenty will take over a city that will likely face budget constraints as its real estate boom cools and related revenue diminishes.

"The success the city has enjoyed is still tenuous," Dinegar added, saying the organization planned to offer assistance to Fenty on his promise to improve the city's public schools. "That's not an indictment of Adrian Fenty, but a warning to be careful of this tenuous situation."

Max Brown, who headed Fenty's business advisory team during the campaign, said Fenty's ability to win the Democratic primary without support from the establishment represents a changing of the guard in the business community.

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