Fenty's Aggressive Fundraising May Be Contributing to Donor Fatigue, Some Say

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009

District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said in 2006 that he was walking and knocking on so many doors in his effort to get elected that he had worn a hole in his shoe.

These days, with the economy struggling, supporters say that Fenty's relentless fundraising is wearing holes in their pockets. With more than a year to go before the 2010 Democratic primary, Fenty has raised $2 million and is counting on what he hopes will be a repeat of his first mayoral race, in which he won every precinct.

That campaign was infectious, leaving a swirl of energy in its wake. But the second time around, he appears to be spreading something else: Fenty fatigue.

The bug is latent, but whispers at lunchtime meetings and receptions indicate a potential problem. Political observers say Fenty risks tapping out contributors and diminishing his persona as a populist who bucked the political establishment three years ago by collecting small donations from all corners of the city. The 38-year-old former council member is leaning mostly on big-spending business owners and developers, and they are not parting easily with their money.

Some contributors are asking: When is enough enough?

Last week, Doug Patton, a lawyer and former deputy mayor, held a closed fundraiser for Fenty at the Georgetown Club, where contributors paid a minimum $500 for a reception and $1,000 to attend an intimate dinner with the mayor.

"Normally, an event like that would have raised $50,000," Patton said. "We raised about $35,000. . . . The economy plays a role. Where people would have given $1,000, this year people are like, well . . . "

Another factor is the sense that Fenty will easily be reelected. Sulaimon Brown, a former Fenty volunteer, announced last week that he is running for mayor, and rumors persist that D.C. Council members Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) and Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) are interested, but neither has committed. (None of the Browns are related.)

Fenty said his strategy is the same as in past elections: Start the fundraising, field operations and communications as early as possible.

"You take nothing for granted," Fenty said. "You run as hard as humanly possible."

In some communities, Fenty has outlined his accomplishments as mayor. At a recent graduation ceremony, he touted decreasing school dropout rates and rising test scores, which are part of his effort to turn around the city's public schools. At playground openings, he talks to residents and students about how the city is trying to improve their communities.

In addition to the recession, supporters are also getting turned off by Fenty's "recent string of gaffes and the recent show of hubris," political consultant Chuck Thies said. Those include his tiff with the D.C. Council over his delayed distribution of members' tickets for Washington Nationals games and allowing a friend to drive his city-owned sport-utility vehicle, a violation of D.C. rules and regulations.

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