Ward 4, which gave Fenty his start in politics, could end job as D.C. mayor

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010

All Ethel Delaney Lee wanted was a phone call.

She sought a brief conversation, the kind of personal attentiveness the matriarch of modern Ward 4 politics had grown used to over the years from her former D.C. Council member, Adrian M. Fenty.

Delaney Lee, who employed her considerable political skills to help mold Fenty's image as a constituent-caring council member, had expected their relationship to thrive when he was elected mayor in 2006. Fenty (D) would surely have time to hear her plea on behalf of a friend, a city employee slated to be laid off two years shy of retiring as part of the mayor's cost-saving measures, she said.

"The cellphone that I had for him, someone always answered for him," said Delaney Lee, 84, of North Portal Estates. "I wrote a letter. . . . I never heard a word. Now, the mayor says he never received the letter and says he wishes he had."

Fenty -- in a tight mayoral race against D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) -- has tried to mend the friendship. He has given Delaney Lee his personal cellphone number and proclaimed June 4 "Ethel Delaney Lee Day" to honor the retired police officer for her community service.

"Any failure to respond to her letter and phone calls is inexcusable and shouldn't have happened," Fenty said.

But he's too late. Delaney Lee said Fenty has lost her confidence and her vote. The mayor betrayed their relationship, she said, taking for granted her years of support and electioneering savvy and turning a blind eye to her friend's problem.

The unexpected souring of their political alliance spotlights the high stakes in this election year. After all, Delaney Lee helped Fenty make history in 2006, when he swept every precinct and Ward 4 delivered his biggest success: the highest voter turnout, 46 percent; the highest percentage of votes for him, 69 percent; and the highest number of votes for him, 13,455.

Nowhere does Fenty have more to lose than in Ward 4. Conventional wisdom and political tarot readers have wards 5, 7 and 8 potentially in Gray's column. Fenty would win wards 1, 2 and 3. They would split Ward 6. That clears they way for the mayor's former epicenter of popularity to become the battleground in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

Divided area

Ward 4 embraces moneyed neighborhoods including Chevy Chase and North Portal Estates and not-so-wealthy areas such as Lamond Riggs and Petworth. It is home to churchgoers, PTA members and perhaps the city's highest concentration of wealthy black professionals.

The ward's word-of-mouth work helped Fenty become mayor almost four years ago. This time, it's hurting him. Former Fenty supporters who back Gray recount personal insults and lament laid-off or transferred city employees. The mayor's supporters apologize for their candidate.

To blunt the criticism and regain his footing, Fenty set up his campaign headquarters on Georgia Avenue (in his first mayoral run, it was in Ward 1, on Florida Avenue). He has told reporters that he opened the office in Ward 4 because he wanted to return to where his political career started.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company