Fenty plans to go negative in ads against Gray in D.C. mayor's race

The Fenty campaign debuts negative ads targeting Vincent Gray's DHS record.
By Nikita Stewart and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Faced with a spirited challenge from D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has poured more than $1 million into TV advertising to try to change the perception that he is arrogant and uncaring and to paint Gray as an inept bureaucrat tied to the city's 1990s fiscal crisis.

Fenty is poised to expand his ad campaign strategy Thursday to focus on Gray, after campaign finance reports showed that his chief rival had narrowed the fundraising gap in the past two months.

Fenty, known for aggressive fundraising, is on pace to make the Sept. 14 Democratic mayoral primary one of the most expensive in city history. With $4.7 million as of Tuesday, the mayor will probably end the campaign having raised more than twice the $2.4 million he collected for his 2006 primary bid.

Gray has raised about $1.3 million, quashing doubts about his ability to amass a war chest large enough to compete with the mayor. In the past two months, Gray outpaced the mayor in fundraising by more than 2 to 1, collecting about $708,000 to Fenty's $308,000. But Gray remains at a disadvantage in trying to counteract the mayor's advertising.

On Wednesday, Fenty unveiled two 30-second ads to air Thursday that take aim at Gray's tenure as director of the city's Department of Human Services during the administration of Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. In grainy black-and-white photos, Gray is depicted as a sinister bureaucrat who mismanaged city funds and critical social services.

The spots mark the first time in Fenty's political career that he has taken an overtly negative tone in advertising.

Gray spokesman Mo Elleithee said Fenty's negative tack is a sign that the mayor's campaign is on the ropes. The Gray campaign planned to release a radio spot in response.

"Maybe if [Fenty] spent less time on attack ads and more time producing a plan or vision for the future -- which he has yet to do -- his campaign wouldn't be struggling," Elleithee said in a statement.

Gray, who is not advertising on television, has tried to counter Fenty with YouTube advertising, radio spots, volunteers and workers unions that have endorsed him.

In a summer contest that traditionally comes down to the last 30 days of campaigning, Gray appears to be giving Fenty a run for his money. But Fenty still dwarfs him. In cash on hand, Fenty has $1.9 million to Gray's $689,808.

Both campaigns are gearing up for a get-out-the-vote effort that will be complicated by the city's new laws on early voting and same-day registration. A canvassing and knock-and-drag-to-the-polls operation that took place on one day in the past will now stretch over two weeks, starting Aug. 30.

With new laws and expected hiccups at the Board of the Elections and Ethics, both campaigns are poised for challenges. The Fenty campaign has hired Perkins Coie, former law firm of wife Michelle Cross Fenty, according to a campaign finance filing that showed two payments to the firm totaling about $18,000.

"The campaign, in an abundance of caution, hired a Democratic-leaning election law firm specialist to give advice and protect voter participation, given the change in D.C. law," said Bill Lightfoot, Fenty's campaign chairman.

In the Democratic contest to lead the D.C. Council and replace Gray, at-large member Kwame R. Brown collected more than four times as much money in the past two months as former council member Vincent Orange. Brown raised $257,000 for a total of nearly $460,000, according to Tuesday's report. He has $181,000 in the bank for the final month of the campaign.

Orange's fundraising pace slowed considerably since the reporting period in June, with the former two-term Ward 5 council member raising $58,000 to bring his total to nearly $248,000. He has $64,300 on hand, according to the most recent filing.

Orange said Wednesday that his campaign had met its goals and is "well-positioned." Of the financial gap between him and Brown, Orange said, "I'm a more efficient and effective manager of my cash and can do more with less."

Brown's haul suggests that his fundraising was not hampered by reports last month of personal financial troubles.

"Our positive campaign that focuses on the issues that matter most continues to resonate," Brown said in a statement Wednesday.

Brown, who is backed by 11 of his dozen council colleagues, continues to pick up endorsements from most major local political organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Hotel Association of Washington and labor unions.

Brown's take also includes donations from local developers, such as Donatelli and Klein, concert promoter and 9:30 Club co-owner Seth Hurwitz and businessman Emmanuel Bailey, the new local partner for the District's lottery contract.

In the at-large council contest, Democratic incumbent Phil Mendelson raised $53,600, bringing his total to $216,000. Mendelson, who was first elected in 1998, reported spending $12,000 in the past two months. His rival, Clark Ray, former director of the Parks and Recreation Department, raised $16,000 for a total of $140,000 and spent $33,000.

Staff writers Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company