A Gray-Fenty mayoral race opens up choices for the District

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

VINCENT C. Gray's decision to challenge Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the Democratic primary sets the broad outlines for what is sure to be a spirited race. Mr. Gray, chairman of the D.C. Council, trumpets the need for a new "style of leadership;" Mr. Fenty boasts of the "great progress" the city has made under his leadership. Both are important concerns, but this election should be more than a referendum on their personalities and records. It must be about the next four years and which candidate has the ideas and capabilities to best lead the District.

Mr. Gray ended months of political speculation Tuesday when he filed papers to become a candidate in the Sept. 14 primary. Developer R. Donahue Peebles may also join the race, which also includes two lesser-known candidates, but at the moment the choice for voters is shaping up as between the first-term incumbent and Mr. Gray. We had encouraged the 67-year-old chairman to get into the race, believing the city would benefit from hearing these two longtime rivals debate the direction they want to take the city.

Mr. Gray's lifetime of public service to the District has justifiably earned him respect. His willingness to forgo easy reelection to a job he loves shows the depth of his unhappiness with Mr. Fenty's leadership and his belief that it ill serves the city.

His challenge in the next five months is to articulate what he would do differently than Mr. Fenty. Judging by recent polls, Mr. Gray seems to be better liked than the 39-year-old mayor, but Mr. Fenty has a record of undisputed accomplishments. Crime is down, government services are better managed and people are once again moving back into the District. Nowhere is the mayor's imprint felt more than in the fledging improvements that Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has brought about in the city's troubled public schools. What would happen to Ms. Rhee and her reforms in a Gray administration? Announcing his candidacy, Mr. Gray vowed that "we can do better. " Voters need to know exactly how.

The task is no less formidable for Mr. Fenty, who must convince a skeptical public that he can be trusted as a leader. As admirable as his accomplishments are, they are marred by his shortsighted slighting of the D.C. Council and questionable transactions involving friends and allies. Mr. Fenty may well believe that alienating people is inevitable, given the kind of bold change he sought, but he needlessly squandered the goodwill that helps leaders govern. Even as residents think the city is headed in the right direction, many voice their disaffection with the mayor. What, if anything, has Mr. Fenty learned from silly missteps such as hoarding baseball tickets? Reacting to Mr. Gray's candidacy, Mr. Fenty vowed to continue the work he started as mayor. Voters need to know what he will do better.

Elections are about choices. Voters will now have the opportunity to compare the achievements of Mr. Fenty and Mr. Gray -- and what each promises for the next four years.

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