DISPATCH FROM . . .

. . . Where Techno-Gadgets Bear Fruit

Candidate Adrian M. Fenty, armed with not one but two BlackBerrys, claps a sticker on Darrell Gascon.
Candidate Adrian M. Fenty, armed with not one but two BlackBerrys, claps a sticker on Darrell Gascon. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Our lives are divided into cultures and subcultures and circles -- our families, our schools, our jobs, our churches, our toys. Today, Page Three offers a dispatch from the crowded right hip of the man who would be mayor.

"They ring the same. But they are on different places on my belt."

That's how Adrian M. Fenty (D) keeps his political aspirations (to be mayor of the District) separate from his current job (as a member of the D.C. Council).

In a city with a passion for high-tech, where pedestrians on cellphones seem to outnumber those who are not, where almost everyone waiting for the traffic light to change is chatting telephonically with someone who is nowhere near, Fenty is a techno-curiosity.

He roams the city with two (2!) BlackBerrys strapped to his side.

BlackBerry, you say? Surely by now everyone knows about these part-cellphone, part-Internet-activated minicomputers?

But in the beginning, Fenty's BlackBerry was viewed as a mere toy, a pointless gadget that distracted him from the serious work of the D.C. Council.

"There are colleagues of mine . . . who sit in the corner and play with their BlackBerrys and don't participate at all. Is that who you want to run your city?" council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) griped during the battle over baseball in the fall of 2004.

But Fenty did not abandon the device. No. He thumbed its buttons ever more vigorously. During council sessions. During public hearings. Even during community meetings. Lunch with Fenty always brought a steady stream of beeping interruptions.

When Fenty launched his campaign for mayor, the BlackBerrys multiplied: A new one devoted to campaign business joined the old one for council business. His campaign foots the bill for the new one, and taxpayers pay for the old one.

The BlackBerrys came to symbolize Fenty's round-the-clock devotion to customer service. He used them to cultivate a man-of-the-people persona, sharing the numbers with ordinary voters who said they needed his help.

Then the BlackBerry attained star status in a Fenty campaign commercial mocking guys such as Evans and supporters of Fenty's chief rival, council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D).

"Some people say I spend too much time responding to my constituents. I tell them there's no such thing," Fenty says as he reaches for the buzzing device. He thumbs the keypad. "Excuse me," he says. "Somebody needs help."

Since Fenty's landslide victory in the Democratic primary, converts to the BlackBerry have been popping up all over city hall. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) was spotted toying with one at a recent council meeting. And at a Fenty news conference last week, Evans arrived waving his new BlackBerry like a white flag of surrender.

"I want everybody to know," Evans said. "The first message is from Adrian Fenty congratulating me on my BlackBerry."

-- Lori Montgomery and Nikita Stewart, staff writers


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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