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Mayor Fenty and the District's ongoing racial segregation

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By Colbert I. King
Saturday, February 6, 2010

I'm not the least bit surprised by the new Post poll that finds D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's support has sharply eroded among D.C. residents, especially African Americans. The poll confirms observations made in this column for nearly a year ["What the mayor won't tell you about D.C.," March 21, 2009; "His highness the mayor," May 16, 2009; "A New York moment for Adrian Fenty," Nov. 7, 2009].

But stories about the sharp drop-off in Fenty's approval ratings have overshadowed another telling survey finding: That while the District of Columbia may be desegregated, an integrated, racially unified city, we are not.

The poll reveals sharp differences in black and white perceptions not only of Fenty but more significantly of the direction in which the District is headed.

Fenty's low approval rating among black registered voters in the District -- only 29 percent -- stands in sharp relief against the 57 percent of D.C. whites who give him a strong thumbs-up. Likewise, a whopping 65 percent of blacks disapprove of the way Fenty is handling his job, while only 30 percent of whites give him a thumbs-down.

Same mayor, same policies, but viewed differently through a racial prism.

So it is with the rest of the city.

The crucial poll question, asking whether the District is "going in the right direction or have things gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track," elicited answers that dispel any notion of racial cohesion here.

Sixty-seven percent of white residents believe the city is on the right track; a minority of black residents, 43 percent, agree. On the flip side, 17 percent of whites thought the city is headed in the wrong direction. Twice as many black residents, 35 percent, thought so.

Black and white residents also differ on improvement in city services, crime reduction and school progress, with 60 percent of whites believing the mayor is doing an excellent or good job in those three categories. Black approval rates, in contrast, fall under 50 percent, with only 28 percent giving Fenty good marks for improving the schools.

It's easy, almost too easy, to chalk up the stark racial differences to Fenty alone. Talk to the politicians, as I have, and they point to his aloof, technocratic governing style and his lack of rapport with the D.C. Council.

Listen to black leaders and you hear that Fenty shortchanges their constituencies, that he favors his downtown business supporters and that he prefers to hire whites in government.

But does it really come down to those


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