By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty described his Persian Gulf vacation in Dubai last week as a "personal trip" but said yesterday that the government of the United Arab Emirates paid his expenses.
Fenty (D) said that he paid for his wife and twin sons to join him for the week-long vacation and that no District government funds were used. He did not say why the UAE paid his way, how much it cost or why he was invited.
He said he spent time sightseeing and met with government officials to talk about "very general" topics, such as economic development. Fenty also attended a women's tennis tournament that caused controversy when the UAE refused to grant Israeli player Shahar Peer a visa.
Fenty had not announced his trip publicly until he returned Sunday.
During his tenure as a D.C. Council member, Fenty chastised then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) for taking several trips abroad each year. Fenty said then that a mayor should stay in town to be accessible to residents. Williams paid for his trips with funds from private donors and conference sponsors, including universities, and he accepted money from at least one foreign government. His wife sometimes accompanied him.
Over the past year, Fenty has increased his travel. He made a half-dozen appearances for Barack Obama's campaign, rallying supporters in Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
In January 2008, Fenty attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, as a guest of Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
And the mayor has traveled to New York several times, competing in a triathlon last summer and attending a recent fundraiser for his reelection campaign hosted by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (D).
Asked why he went to Dubai, Fenty replied: "I always wanted to go. I did set up some meetings. They were very general. . . . It was a fantastic city, very cosmopolitan, like D.C. I even met a few people there who were from Washington."
Asked about the trip yesterday during an appearance in Southwest Washington, Fenty said he was aware of the controversy over the visa denial. The UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
"I did know one Israeli was banned," Fenty said.
"It's a very complicated international diplomatic situation. Concerns were raised. After Venus Williams won, she raised the issue, and I think she talked for most people when she said she would have preferred if everyone was allowed to play. But, by the end, they seemed to have resolved the matter in that they were going to allow an Israeli to play in the men's tournament," the mayor said.
Dubai is one of seven independent emirates, each ruled by a local emir, on the Arabian Peninsula. The oil-exporting United Arab Emirates has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Dubai, in particular, has been a rapidly changing cityscape of superhighways, skyscrapers and luxury hotels.
Until oil prices tumbled, highflying Dubai had been considered an economic model for the Middle East.
But the decline in oil prices has harmed the real estate, construction, tourism and financial service industries, which had been driving the economy.
A spokeswoman at the UAE Embassy in Washington asked for questions about Fenty's visit to be submitted in writing, but she declined to answer them after they were provided in an e-mail.
Fenty said he met with Rashid Mubarak Al Hajiri, the chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs for Abu Dhabi.
"We talked about everything from how's the family to how we do our jobs, tips and advice on how to do things," the mayor said.
"One example was that he had been in charge of human resources at one point, so he was talking about how you ensure you hire good people," Fenty said. "The state of Dubai is known for economic development and for the reform of government. He had been here in Washington for something like 14 years, so he knows the city well.
"He spoke of the great progress we've made here."