A Fenty vs. Gray race is what Washington needs

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

THE DECISION by millionaire-developer R. Donahue Peebles to sit out this year's D.C. mayoral race increases pressure on D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) to mount his own challenge. Critics of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) are clamoring for Mr. Gray to announce his candidacy. Mr. Gray told The Post, in an interview published Monday, that he's considering a race and believes he could win. We hope he acts on that optimism and jumps into the race.

We say that not because we've soured on the mayor or would favor one man over the other at this early stage, but because the city could benefit from a full-throated debate on Mr. Fenty, his programs and the issues facing the District. Mr. Gray has made clear that he can't stomach many of the policies being pursued by the mayor. Why not take his disagreements to the voters and either win a mandate for his alternatives -- or let Mr. Fenty show that he has the support to continue on his course for a second term?

To take on the mayor in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, Mr. Gray would have to risk what, at this point, promises to be his easy reelection as Council chairman. It's a powerful job and one Mr. Gray clearly loves. He'll also probably want to await the outcome of inquiries by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance into questions concerning his fundraising activities and repairs to his home. Then, too, Mr. Fenty has a good head start -- having raised $3 million and having started his signature practice of knocking on as many doors as possible.

But the two have been knocking heads, and the constant bickering and refusal to work together for the common good can't be good for the city over the long run. A face-off between the rivals would allow for a full airing of the issues. Mr. Fenty would be able to point to his accomplishments -- bold educational reforms, vigorous efforts to improve city services and success in battling crime. Mr. Gray, with his own record of leading the council and his clear commitment to human services, would have the chance to say what he would do differently. And he could challenge Mr. Fenty for the supposed arrogance of his governing style.

Some tension between the mayor and council is normal and even healthy. The District has survived such rivalries in the past (then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and then-D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson come to mind.) But the ongoing guerrilla warfare is becoming increasingly harmful to the public interest. The latest argument over whether $800 million in contracts need retroactive council approval, for example, threatens vital city services and could tarnish the District's standing on Wall Street. We think the public has come to expect better of its government. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who held their positions before the current incumbents, managed to cooperate civilly even when they disagreed. Four more years of the council trying to undermine the mayor and the mayor trying to ignore the council is more than Washingtonians should have to bear.

It's clear from the money he has raised and the campaign apparatus that he's assembled that Mr. Fenty is ready to be challenged. Isn't it time for his critics to show their mettle?

© 2010 The Washington Post Company