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D.C. mayoral campaign has echoes of 1994

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Now, as was Kelly, Fenty is estranged from the bureaucracy over which he sits. Many city workers view him as they did Kelly: as a mayor who chooses to fly solo, listening only to himself; as a loner who shut out experienced Washingtonians who could have helped him.

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And as a result, Fenty -- like Kelly -- is seeking reelection without the support of those who have traditionally played important roles in the city's political life: government workers and their unions, families, friends and churches. He's struggling to regain the support of longtime middle-class and working-class residents who feel they have been relegated to second place by an administration that caters to, and is under the influence of, that old race and class bugaboo: "others."

That sentiment has been reflected in the polls. It was also on display this week at the Lamond-Riggs Citizens Association's mayoral and council chairman forums, which I moderated on Tuesday, and at the chaotic Ward 4 Democrats forum and straw poll Wednesday night.

In questions submitted by the audience, and in barbs hurled at the mayor by lesser-known mayoral candidates, three expressions of derision directed toward Fenty were used almost interchangeably: "The Washington Post" (which endorsed him), "dog parks" and "bike lanes" (both of which he champions). These are three thinly disguised code words for white influence. They also reflect a mind-set that holds that the city's dwindling black majority is being kicked to the curb.

Which gets us back to what makes this year so much like 1994.

The rap on Fenty is the same as the one on Kelly: The mayor is marching to the beat of a different drummer, certainly not the beat of residents who put him in office. The Barry vote in '94, in one respect, was a thumbing of the nose at downtown and the better-off west of Rock Creek Park. The same "we'll show them" strain can also be heard in the support for Gray.

This is not something to cheer but to regret. Not out of sympathy for Fenty. But out of concern for a city so trapped in its past that it can't see the problems before its face -- problems that are neither black nor white.

kingc@washpost.com


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