MAYOR ADRIAN M. Fenty (D) must think that D.C. residents are so dimwitted that they will buy any excuse for his not showing up to debate D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) on education. Or maybe he just doesn't care. Either way, his latest misstep is another troubling example of the haughty approach to governing that is, in large measure, why Mr. Fenty finds himself in political peril. Unless Mr. Fenty wants his mayoralty defined by these increasingly silly side issues, he should start showing more respect to voters.
Campaign officials for Mr. Fenty cited scheduling issues as the reason for his decision not to participate in a one-on-one debate with Mr. Gray, who is challenging him in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. They have taken pains to point out that Mr. Fenty's attendance was never confirmed for Monday's event, but they knew that Young Education Professionals-DC, which believed it had an understanding, was sending out announcements. Moreover, the debate had been well publicized, so why did it take the mayor until the night before the debate to tell the group he had a conflict?
What's most puzzling about the incident is why Mr. Fenty wouldn't want to face Mr. Gray on what has been the signature issue of his administration. By sitting out the event, Mr. Fenty missed an opportunity to spotlight what he's accomplished -- better test scores, improved operations, renovated schools -- since assuming control of the schools three years ago. He also allowed Mr. Gray to take center stage on education and, for instance, to go unchallenged about being an early champion of mayoral control when, in fact, he was one of the last council members to make up his mind. More important, Mr. Fenty denied the public the chance to hear the two major candidates for mayor debate the most pressing issue facing the District.
If this were an isolated incident, it would be forgotten quickly as just that -- one small incident. But it seems to fit into a pattern of inconsiderate actions. Mr. Fenty has every reason to be proud of his record: the progress in schools and public safety, the recreational centers constructed, the talent recruited to his administration, the innovations fostered in transportation. It's mystifying that he would so needlessly diminish his chances of being asked by voters to continue that work.