Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed contracts awarded to Fenty's fraternity brothers as "no-bid." The contracts were competitively bid.

A feistier Fenty goes on offensive against Gray

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2010

Adrian M. Fenty, who has rarely gone negative in a campaign, is retooling his message to draw sharper distinctions with Vincent C. Gray, whom he says can't be trusted to oversee crime, schools and the budget.

As the mayor seeks a second term amid mounting evidence that he is in the toughest race of his career, Fenty assailed the D.C. Council chairman at a Democratic candidates forum Thursday night in upper Northwest Washington. After the two-hour forum in Foxhall, one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, Fenty said he will continue his feistier approach as he seeks to persuade voters they could be risking safer streets and better schools if they elect Gray.

Fenty repeatedly jabbed Gray over his tenure as director of the Department of Human Services under then-Mayor Sharon Pratt in the 1990s, when some city services failed. Fenty also mocked Gray's recent indecisiveness over funding for new streetcars.

"That's the old way of doing things," Fenty said. "When you talk about fiscal discipline, what are you talking about? It can't be the early 1990s, when the Department of Human Services was the No. 1 agency that overspent its budget and caused the District of Columbia to go into red ink and have the control board come in."

Gray also took several swipes at Fenty, whom he accused of engaging in "one of the worst examples of cronyism" by awarding million-dollar city contracts to several fraternity brothers.

But Gray seemed unprepared for the ferocity of the mayor's attack, demonstrating the challenges he could face against Fenty, who is known as a relentless competitor.

Instead of directly responding to many of Fenty's charges about his record, Gray tried to cast himself as a diligent manager who understands how the government works.

"I believe my leadership and service on the council demonstrates I have a commitment to transparency, a commitment to openness, a commitment to collaboration and a commitment to collegiality," Gray said.

Gray had a tendency to get bogged down in the details of legislation or governing. Fenty largely stuck to broader themes, interlaced with crisp one-liners, as he tried to frame the race as a choice between the old and the new.

"This is a city where management is getting things done," Fenty said at the forum, sponsored by civic associations in Cleveland Park, Palisades and Foxhall. "It's certainly not the city of the early 1990s, when the homicide rate was 500 people or the schools were plummeting down and we were the worst in everything."

Fenty's style represented a departure from his 2006 campaign, when he avoided direct references to his opponents. But Fenty's friends and advisers, increasingly alarmed at the direction of his campaign, have been urging him to fight back or risk losing.

"I'm sure he's hearing from a lot of people who are concerned," said Terry Lynch, a Fenty supporter and executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. "I think he is hearing, 'Get tougher, get meaner and look at Gray's vulnerabilities.' "

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