Despite poll, D.C. officials cite residents' approval

By Nikita Stewart and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's reelection campaign chairman and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said Monday that a new Washington Post poll showing a steep decline in job approval ratings for the two leaders was offset by good news: Many residents like the results they've achieved, even if the process has left some unhappy.

Rhee said she didn't accept Fenty's 2007 job offer to win popularity, but to do what was necessary to turn around a school system regarded as one of the nation's weakest. She cited data from the poll showing that residents see some improvement in areas including school safety, teacher quality and the availability of books and other basic supplies.

"The bottom line for me is that more people think the schools are doing better," said Rhee, whose performance is viewed favorably by 43 percent of residents, down from 59 percent in 2008. "I know that people don't like change, and if they associate me with change but like the results, that's fine with me."

Fenty (D) said he had yet to examine another poll, published Sunday, showing that his overall approval rating has dropped from 72 percent in 2008 to 42 percent. "But once I have, I will be ready, willing and able to get you a statement," he said.

Former D.C. Council member William Lightfoot, Fenty's campaign chairman, said he was encouraged by the ratings District residents gave their neighborhoods and key city services, appraisals higher than at any point in 20 years of polling by The Post. Lightfoot called it "dramatic change."

"You've got to break eggs to make an omelet," he said.

According to the survey, Fenty trails in a potential matchup against Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) 35 percent to 31 percent. Large numbers of District residents, and a majority of the city's African Americans, see Fenty as neither honest nor trustworthy and as disconnected from their problems. Among African American residents, he has gone from 68 percent approval in 2008 to 65 percent disapproval this year.

Lightfoot said the numbers show that the public has not been exposed to the softer side of Fenty. "The mayor is personable one-on-one. The poll can't test that. It's a perception problem," he said.

Fenty, in Annapolis on Monday to discuss joint crime-prevention efforts with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), sounded familiar with one of the survey findings: that the public believes he is doing a good job on public safety.

"I can't say enough about what the police department has done," Fenty said. "I think if we keep doing this kind of thing, focusing on deliverables, statistics and results, the citizens will see even safer neighborhoods."

Rhee declined to comment on the erosion of her support among African American residents. Two years ago, 50 percent backed her and 38 percent disapproved. Now, 28 percent approve and 62 percent are dissatisfied.

"I have African American members of the community coming to me every day" noting improvement in the schools, she said.

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