Tuesday, March 17, 2009
MAYOR ADRIAN M. Fenty's acceptance of more than $36,000 in paid travel from foreign governments is "legally sufficient," in the opinion of the District's attorney general. That doesn't make his actions unobjectionable. The mayor showed a troubling lack of judgment in taking the donations and in trying to keep them secret.
When Mr. Fenty traveled to China for last year's Summer Olympics, the trip was billed simply as a private vacation. His trip to Dubai last month was revealed only after his return; again it was said to be a private trip, but this time he acknowledged -- in the sketchiest of detail -- support from the United Arab Emirates. Turns out, according to a report released Friday night by Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, government entities in China paid $11,300 for hotels, food, travel and incidentals for Mr. Fenty's weeklong stay in Beijing and Shanghai. Similarly, the UAE government paid an astonishing $25,000 for Mr. Fenty's one-week trip to Dubai. The mayor's wife and twin sons accompanied him on both trips, and, according to Mr. Nickles, the mayor paid their expenses.
No taxpayer funds were used, and Mr. Fenty seems to have latched on to that as a reason for not providing a full or timely accounting of his activities. What exactly did he do in Dubai that made it worth $25,000 to that government? Was there some reason the public wasn't told about the trip until after the fact? What city business did he conduct in China, and why wasn't it revealed at the time? The mayor of the nation's capital should not be for hire by foreign governments. Consider, for instance, the question posed by Post columnist Marc Fisher as to whether Mr. Fenty felt obligated to attend a tennis tournament in Dubai that sparked controversy after an Israeli player was denied entry to the country. In truth, we still don't really know whether Mr. Fenty was on city business (for which the District should have paid) or on vacation (for which the mayor should have paid).
Mr. Fenty promised to run a transparent administration. He heaped scorn on then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams for his extensive travels. But Mr. Williams, at least, didn't conceal anything. The mayor owes the public more than staying "legally sufficient." He ought to repay the money and promise that there will no repeat.