A High-Profile Start

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty attends a vigil last week for Officer Wayne Pitt, who died several days after being injured in a traffic accident.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty attends a vigil last week for Officer Wayne Pitt, who died several days after being injured in a traffic accident. (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

If there is one message that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has sought to deliver to District residents in his first 100 days, it is that he is accessible to everyone. He has put in 162 public appearances to prove it.

Fenty (D) built his reputation on community service in his Northwest neighborhood. But as mayor, he has gone to the city's most neglected neighborhoods to deliver major addresses, chatted with small groups of residents to hear their grievances and confronted protesters in front of his house to show that he was willing to listen to their complaints.

"He's been here twice already, and he's provided good answers to our questions," said Dorothea Ferrell, 76, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who helped organize Fenty's appearance last week at a community center in Southeast. "He's keeping the promises he made when he was running for office."

Fenty, 36, the youngest chief executive in the District's history, has set out to create a more engaged and responsive government. He was elected in a landslide on a pledge to replace the detached, professorial approach of former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who was often criticized for his out-of-town travels.

The new mayor's style has helped win political support for his biggest initiatives. But despite Fenty's energy, some D.C. Council members and community leaders who have worked closely with him say they think he appears comfortable to remain in campaign mode, constantly courting the public. They wonder whether he will be willing -- and able -- to focus on the harder parts: spelling out the details for improving the 34,000-employee bureaucracy, improving the schools, reducing crime and narrowing the economic divide.

Fenty has registered key victories in the opening days of his four-year term. He successfully pushed a proposal to win direct control over the troubled public school system, which city leaders have failed to improve for decades. He has brought a team of young advisers to power, including new police and fire chiefs. He introduced a legal challenge after a federal court overturned the city's ban against keeping guns at home. He launched a strategy to create affordable housing and implemented the CapStat program, an analysis of city agencies designed to improve government efficiency.

And Monday, he led several thousand people on a march to the Capitol in support of D.C. voting rights, the first such event in a decade.

It is too soon to gauge his success, but the mayor has already faced criticism and unexpected challenges.

Residents said his administration's efforts to remove snow during the city's first snow and ice storm of the year in February were mediocre. Council members criticized the city budget proposal, which lacked bold programs but contained an accounting change that they said could cause a $30 million shortfall. And activists complained about Fenty's school takeover proposal, saying it included initiatives lifted largely from the school system's master plan.

"The challenge he has before him is to connect his appearances in the community with tangible progress on the things he talks about," said council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).

During a break at a coffee shop in Anacostia last week, Fenty professed to be ready for the hard work ahead and dismissed the idea that he is selling style over substance.

"If you're not visible and engaged and energetic, you're not doing the job of a big-city mayor," he said. "The mayor's job is to be public, to be visible, to know what's going on, to hold people accountable, to set high standards."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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