D.C. Mayor Fenty's approval ratings plummet, poll finds

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's approval rating is up from 2008 in one area: reducing crime.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's approval rating is up from 2008 in one area: reducing crime. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
By Nikita Stewart and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's approval rating has plummeted over the past two years, with support eroding in all parts of the city and across demographic groups, particularly among African Americans, according to a new Washington Post poll.

While Fenty (D) has lost significant support among whites, African Americans have done a complete reversal on the mayor since a Post survey two years ago. Blacks have switched from 68 percent approval after his first year in office to 65 percent disapproval in the poll conducted last week. Overall, 42 percent of residents approve of the job he is doing; 49 percent disapprove. More than four in 10 in the new poll doubt his honesty, empathy and openness.

The numbers stand in stark contrast to how people feel about their city: District residents give higher ratings for their neighborhoods and the quality of key city services than they have at any point in Post polling over the past 20 years.

Residents give broadly positive marks to the police department and the quality of parks and recreation facilities. Most parents continue to see major problems in the city's public schools, but those views have eased noticeably. More than half of residents see the city as heading in the right direction, a significantly more bullish view than before Fenty's 2006 election.

And yet Fenty's approval ratings across a range of specific issues have dived by double digits. Compared with two years ago, Fenty's ratings are up in only one area: reducing crime, with the increase there due almost entirely to white residents. Overall, slightly more than half of residents rate him "excellent" or "good" on reducing crime, an increase of 10 percentage points. Nearly eight in 10 say they feel safe in their neighborhoods.

By slim majorities, District residents give Fenty positive marks on his work attracting new businesses and improving city services, but he has lost support in both areas since January 2008. The mayor has also lost ground in the areas of improving the city's schools, creating jobs and eliminating waste and inefficiencies in government.

The results reveal a conflicted public and one with a clear willingness to consider alternatives to Fenty this election year, even though no major candidate has announced a bid against him.

In a hypothetical primary matchup, 35 percent of registered Democrats say they would vote for D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and 31 percent would pick Fenty, with significant numbers undecided. Among those who say they are certain to vote in the September primary, Gray edges Fenty 38 percent to 31 percent. The numbers highlight an anti-Fenty atmosphere in a city where more than four in 10 residents -- including 36 percent of registered Democrats -- have no opinion of Gray, who is openly exploring a challenge to the mayor.

In the new poll, large numbers of District residents and majorities of African Americans see Fenty as not being honest and trustworthy and as disconnected from their problems. Overall, 47 percent of all adults see him as willing to listen to different points of view; 41 percent say he is not.

Variety of concerns

In follow-up interviews, poll respondents cited a wide variety of concerns about Fenty -- including his refusal to give the previously allotted Nationals tickets to D.C. Council members, a secretive trip to Dubai and his failure to attend memorial services for victims of Metro's deadly crash in June.

Nearly three-quarters of all D.C. residents characterize the relations between Fenty and the council as "only fair" or "poor," jumping from 59 percent in the previous poll to 72 percent now. And public blame has shifted: Among those seeing strain in Fenty's relations with the council, more than twice as many fault the mayor as do the council, a switch from January 2008.

The mayor's unwillingness to distribute the baseball tickets, for instance, irked Derrick Mitchell, 44, a military contractor who lives in Northeast Washington. "From what I've read, and his handling of the baseball tickets, he doesn't seem like a very personable person," he said. Mitchell said he is more disappointed in what he sees as the mayor's catering to wealthier neighborhoods. He questioned why Eastern Market in Capitol Hill was quickly rebuilt after it caught fire in 2007 while the O Street Market in Shaw, whose roof collapsed in 2003, remains vacant. "He has done nothing to perpetuate services for everyone," said Mitchell, who is black. "We have not had a mayor that has done anything for a lot of our constituency since Marion Barry was in office."

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