Convention, Ties to Obama Could Benefit Mayor, D.C.

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 23, 2008; B01

As D.C Mayor Adrian M. Fenty heads to Denver for next week's Democratic National Convention, his ties to presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama have put him in position to reap national attention, a spotlight that could help boost the fortunes of the District and the political future of the ambitious 37-year-old mayor.

Last summer, Fenty was among the first big-city mayors to endorse the U.S. senator from Illinois, and he vigorously campaigned through six states and the District during Obama's tough primary fight against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Although he has not been asked to give a convention address, Fenty "can clearly be showcased by the campaign as someone very much in sync with the message of the nominee," said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "It's a great opportunity for him."

For mayors, national political conventions can be awkward. The meetings offer them a chance to present their "urban agenda" -- more money for schools, tougher laws on crime -- to a national audience. But they can be overshadowed by the crush of senators, governors and celebrities.

This year, some mayors said, they have greater convention standing because many were aggressively courted by Obama and Clinton.

"Mayors have been at the forefront, unlike in years past," said Mayor Douglas H. Palmer of Trenton, N.J., who initially backed Clinton but then endorsed Obama. "We want to know that no matter who is representing us, they'll put issues affecting cities high on their agenda. We're the backbone of the country, and that's our mantra."

Fenty's connection to Obama has grown since they met briefly at the 2004 convention in Boston. At the time, Fenty was a D.C. Council member just beginning to contemplate a run for mayor, and Obama was campaigning for the Senate.

"I told him when he wins the [Senate] race, he's going to find a great city to work and live in -- Washington, D.C.," Fenty recalled yesterday with a laugh. A year later, after Obama took office, Fenty and two friends had lunch with him in the Senate dining room.

In Denver, two allies who have ties to Obama will be with Fenty. D.C. lawyer James Hudson, who was co-chairman of Fenty's mayoral campaign, is on Obama's finance committee. Tom Lindenfeld, a political consultant Fenty hired for his campaign, got his start working with Obama campaign guru David Axelrod.

Hudson is a D.C. delegate and will attend fundraising meetings.

In addition to reconnecting with Obama's campaign, Fenty will be counted on by the D.C. delegation to use his influence and connections to push the city's case for congressional voting rights. D.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Anita Bonds and DC Vote, a lobbying group, have set up events to draw attention to the issue, including a trip to the Denver Mint, a reception and presentations to state delegations.

Fenty said yesterday that he endorsed Obama only after the senator promised to support D.C. voting rights if he won the presidency.

At the same time, the mayor's chance to increase his national profile in front of so many political leaders, corporate donors and reporters might be irresistible.

"It's all work, even the parties," said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who was the mayor of Philadelphia during the 1992 and 1996 Democratic conventions. "When I go to the parties, I survey the room and think, 'Okay, who here can do something for Pennsylvania?' I used to say, 'Who can do something for me?' but I'm in the tail end of my career."

Not so for Fenty, who is young and has no higher office to aim for in the District. Although he dismissed speculation that he might someday join an Obama administration in an appointed capacity, Fenty has a chance to increase his visibility for a life beyond the John A. Wilson city government building.

Behind the scenes, Fenty's political adviser, John Falcicchio, who helped run Fenty's mayoral campaign, is sorting through the mound of invitations, more than three dozen, that have poured in.

Organizers of a panel featuring Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) asked Fenty to take part. State Sen. Alex Padilla of California invited him to a dinner reception, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley asked him to stop by for breakfast. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, among the big-city mayors from whom Fenty has sought advice, offered him a tour of city hall. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, whom Fenty visited before taking office, is holding an outdoor rock concert for young people.

Tomorrow, Fenty and D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will appear with New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker and the Rev. Al Sharpton at the Denver Art Museum for a public-television panel discussion on education reform. By taking part, Fenty and Rhee hope to position themselves as part of a national movement, the better to win over foundations in their pursuit of major financial grants.

"The education event was very big for us, because that's been our signature issue," said Fenty, who will return to the District for the first day of school Monday and then head back to Denver.

Mostly, though, Fenty has left his schedule flexible. His staff has been in contact with other big-city mayors to see what they are up to. But the staff members say that it is like a high school party: Everyone is waiting to see which cool kids commit first.

"The great thing here is that . . . it's like an economy in motion, and the mayor is Mr. Motion," said Fenty's predecessor, Anthony A. Williams, who attended the 2000 and 2004 Democratic conventions. "The mayor can go in there and work those crowds and talk to different people and advance the District's interests and indirectly advance his own interests. It's all good."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company