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Mayor Fenty booed on delayed arrival at scene of fatal shootings

By Ann E. Marimow and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 2, 2010; B01

It was 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the shots were fired, when Mayor Adrian M. Fenty arrived at the scene of the District's deadliest outbreak of violence in years. And people gathered there were angry. They booed, cursed, pointed fingers and yelled, "Where have you been?"

The mayor's delayed appearance at the Southeast Washington crime scene reinforced perceptions among African Americans in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River that Fenty is out of touch with their community. The administration's evasiveness about his whereabouts also bolstered the impression that Fenty is secretive.

Before Fenty arrived, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered to hold a vigil for the victims in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street, where nine people were shot, four fatally, Tuesday night. Some of them said they were troubled by Fenty's absence. If the incident had happened in a more upscale neighborhood, they said, the mayor would have been there.

One of those who criticized Fenty was Rico Scott, 39, who said he is a cousin of DaVaughn Boyd, 18, one of the four teenagers killed. "Any public official in control of a city should be Johnny-on-the-spot for something this serious to go down," said Scott, who grew up in Southeast and now lives in Fort Washington. "Where is the leadership?

Fenty confirmed Thursday that he had been traveling in Jamaica, but he would not say how long he was there or when he returned. He told reporters that he was in phone contact with D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier on the night of the shootings and that, in general, he leaves the city government well-prepared to respond to an emergency when he is out of town. He would not say why he generally does not inform the public of his travel plans.

"The team that works for me knows exactly what they need to do in my physical absence" and in an emergency, he said Thursday. "As long as I am communicating with my senior team and they have their instructions, that will be the case."

All week, speculation at the John A. Wilson Building was that Fenty was in Jamaica on spring break with his three children and wife, Michelle Fenty, whose parents are from the Caribbean island. Fenty's aides would not answer questions about his travel, so it was left to reporters to piece together his whereabouts.

An article in a Jamaican newspaper Sunday featured a picture of the Fentys at an anniversary banquet for an island club. The City Paper reported that it had learned through Facebook that Fenty boarded a plane from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to the District on Wednesday evening.

Tony Bolluck, who was a spokesman for former mayor Anthony A. Williams, said Fenty should err on the side of openness when it comes to travel. Williams, who was criticized for his extensive trips, publicized his weekly schedule, including travel plans.

"Vacations are important. People need to get away from their work," Bullock said. "But the mistake was not to get the basic information out there. At some point, you don't owe every detail to the public, but people do have a right to know where the mayor is, because things happen."

After the shootings, Lanier -- who routinely holds news briefings with Fenty after crimes far less serious -- was absent from public view throughout the day Wednesday. Hours after three suspects had been charged in the case, the department had issued no official announcement that they were in custody.

Asked why Lanier had not appeared before news cameras without Fenty, the chief's spokeswoman, Gwendolyn Crump, initially said she did not know the reason. Later Wednesday, Crump said Lanier did not want to update the public on the case until the suspects had made their initial court appearances, although that was not her practice in other high-profile cases.

By 6 p.m., the suspects were finished in court, but Lanier did not speak publicly until she appeared with Fenty at the crime scene after 9 p.m.

Fenty's day-after response became political fodder for his chief rival, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who announced his candidacy for mayor Tuesday. "The number-one citizen, the mayor, has to be on the scene, to call attention to this, to decry the fact that it has happened, and, with the chief, talk about what steps will be taken," Gray, a Ward 7 resident, said in an interview with NewsChannel 8's Bruce DePuyt. Gray was not at the scene.

Before Fenty arrived Wednesday night, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) told the crowd that neither Fenty nor Lanier had responded to his phone messages about the shootings, which occurred in his ward. "That's disrespectful to the 70,000 people that live in this community," Barry said to the crowd, which at times chanted, "We want Gray!"

Barry's message echoed findings in a recent Washington Post poll that found that Fenty is vulnerable in predominantly black wards 7 and 8. Although most white respondents said they view Fenty as honest, trustworthy and understanding of their problems, the poll found the opposite holds for most African Americans.

On Wednesday night, Fenty did not react to the crowd's taunting, only speaking louder into the microphones. Later, he tried to engage with residents. Away from the crowd, he met in a church basement with about 10 young men, some of them friends of the shooting victims, who expressed concerns about finding jobs.

Fenty said it was only natural for residents to feel "irate and frustrated."

"People should feel they can express their frustration at the government because they want the government to do more in the community, and that's what we're going to do," Fenty said during an interview with WRC-TV (Channel 4).

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