District's mayoral race: the incumbency advantage vs. being a blank slate

By Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010

So who's the incumbent here, anyway?

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has all the advantages that a sitting mayor could possibly want and possibly have amassed for himself: a record to run on, youth and energy, and an unprecedented war chest.

Meanwhile, it's his chief rival, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who is racking up endorsements from unions, business groups, ward organizations and others. He can't get the yard signs out fast enough. He's started raising money at an impressive clip. And pretty much all he's had to do is show up.

In this overheated mayoral race that never should have been, the advantages of incumbency are being outweighed by the advantages of being a blank slate. Gray is trying to win by being political tofu -- a nutritious but flavorless mush able to absorb whatever flavoring voters would fancy.

Hate Michelle A. Rhee? Gray's your man -- if the schools chancellor doesn't leave of her own accord, he'll make sure she's all warm and fuzzy for you.

Hate cronyism? Gray hates that, too.

Hate disrespect? Gray has you covered there.

Fenty, for all his faults, ain't tofu. He's now very much an acquired taste.

That's in no small part because Fenty has governed for 42 months on a false premise: that his 142-precinct sweep gave him a mandate to govern like the hard-charging "big-city mayor" this not-so-big-city's never had.

He's now in full bloom of explaining to disaffected voters why they hate him so much and why they should vote for him again in spite of it. The Fenty entreaty goes something like this: "People see a willingness to make tough decisions that we haven't seen in a long time in D.C.," he said Wednesday night, talking to a group of gay and lesbian supporters about school reform. "You could probably do this the safe and secure way, but it would probably take two or three decades. . . . We need it to happen fast."

When you step into the voting booth, he said, "remember our commitment to taking on the tough issues."

Politics, unfortunately, is more complicated than ascribing mass disaffection to "tough decisions."

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