Crash Brings Criticism of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's Rejection of Personal Drivers

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 10, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty insists on driving himself around town, a resolve that no other big-city mayor appears to share and one that security experts say is imprudent for any chief executive with an exacting job and a hectic schedule.

The 38-year-old mayor ditched his full-time security detail two years ago and began getting behind the wheel to go to meetings and events outside of city hall.

But Fenty's recent fender bender has again raised questions about why the mayor is commandeering his city-issued vehicles, a Lincoln Navigator and a Smart Car. Fenty (D) was driving the Navigator when it collided with a Nissan Pathfinder at a four-way stop in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of the District this month. A police report on the accident was incomplete and contradicted an accounting of the incident provided by the mayor's office.

It is another controversy surrounding Fenty and his vehicles. In May, he apologized for allowing a friend who was not a government employee to drive the Navigator, an apparent violation of the law. Fenty also picked up a speeding ticket in the Smart Car during the same month.

Fenty would not answer questions Friday about whether his recent car troubles have caused him to rethink being his own chauffeur. When he quietly abandoned a driver and took the wheel himself in 2007, he told a reporter that he did so "because I have a driver's license."

The mayor has always sought to project the image of an energetic, visible politician. During his mayoral campaign, in which he would spend more than 12 hours each day knocking on doors, he drove himself. As mayor, Fenty has kept a crowded weekly schedule of public events, including news conferences, ribbon-cuttings and neighborhood meetings in the District. In the early days of his administration, he caught flak for having his security detail speed through the city's streets, often with lights flashing and sirens blaring, disrupting traffic and running red lights as he raced from one event to the next.

Complaints about the sirens did not warrant such a dramatic change in the way he travels, some of his critics said.

"I think it's curious that he's driving himself," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. "Why not have the security detail . . . when you have an accident like this past week?"

Attorney General Peter Nickles said the mayor has made a personal choice to travel sans driver. "This is a very unusual, activist mayor," Nickles said. "What he chooses to do is what he chooses to do."

'It's Not Advisable'

But security experts say the mayor should have a police officer drive him.

They cite concerns not only about safety but also about productivity because of the constant pressures facing the mayor of a city with about 600,000 residents. "A mayor has a lot of things on his mind that can lead to distractions," said Sal Lifrieri, who used to be assigned to then-New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "You want him to not be distracted" while driving around.

Lifrieri, president of Protective Countermeasures in New Rochelle, N.Y., said police officers are trained to drive defensively, a skill that could prove necessary when trying to get to a location quickly or in the event of an emergency.

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