Complaining of Mayor's Governing Style, Aide Resigns

Neil Richardson was a prominent face in Adrian M. Fenty's campaign and, at first, in his administration.
Neil Richardson was a prominent face in Adrian M. Fenty's campaign and, at first, in his administration. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's deputy chief of staff has resigned after a year on the job, citing growing disenchantment with the mayor's governing style. It is the second high-ranking resignation in the past three weeks.

Neil Richardson worked on Fenty's mayoral campaign for two years, often walking door-to-door with him, and helped him develop "best practices" during trips to several big cities shortly before Fenty (D) took office last January.

He was rewarded with a seat in the mayor's "bullpen" office. Among his duties was organizing events for such initiatives as D.C.'s effort to win a vote in Congress and community meetings related to Fenty's takeover of the public schools.

But Richardson was reassigned in October to an office called Serve DC and asked to create a volunteer program to help the school system. The demotion came after he disagreed with Fenty on several issues and complained that the mayor was not listening enough to the public, government sources said.

For example, Richardson, a former semi-pro soccer player, pushed for Fenty to support building a soccer stadium for D.C. United along the Anacostia River in Ward 8 and expressed unhappiness when the mayor broke off negotiations with the team last summer.

"I was disappointed that an administration that was built on strong populist tendencies has gotten to a place where the council and the public feel left out of decisions," Richardson said yesterday. "I believe this is the opposite of what people had expected and hoped for when our campaign won every precinct in the city."

Richardson's resignation comes three weeks after Linda Singer stepped down as attorney general. Her aides said she resigned because she believed Fenty was listening more often to then-general counsel Peter Nickles. Nickles is now the acting attorney general.

Richardson has had his moments of pique. He joined Fenty's team several years ago after leaving a community organizing post in the administration of then-mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). In an opinion piece in The Washington Post in May 2005, Richardson wrote that he was disappointed with Williams's initiative to engage residents.

Through a spokeswoman, Fenty declined to comment on Richardson's departure. But a government official with knowledge of the relationship said Fenty believed that Richardson was pushing for initiatives that were not in line with the mayor's priorities and that his skills were better used in organizing community-based projects.

"It's a different environment when you are in the mayor's office," as opposed to a campaign, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was a personnel issue. "Some ideas he came up with did not necessarily make sense."

Richardson was among a team of aides often spotted close to Fenty during his two-year campaign. Another, Alec Evans, who had served as Fenty's spokesman, was fired shortly after Fenty won the Democratic primary.

Gregory McCarthy, who served as a high-ranking aide in the Williams administration, said yesterday that staff turnover is expected.

"It's no more than you had in the first year of the Williams administration," McCarthy said. "When you have a new team come in, it's inevitable that the first year is something of a shake-down cruise."

The relationship between Fenty and Richardson soured in the summer, after they disagreed over the Poplar Point stadium proposal. In October, Fenty's chief of staff, Tene Dolphin, told Richardson he would be reassigned, and Richardson called Fenty to ask why, according to an administration source familiar with the episode.

Fenty did not return the call, and Dolphin told Richardson the next day to move to the Serve DC office by the end of the day, the source said.

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