By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; B04
In an endorsement of the young first-term mayor's reelection bid, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday the District is now "more accountable, more transparent, more effective" under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
Bloomberg, who has been Fenty's unofficial mentor for the past four years, announced his endorsement of Fenty at Carmine's, a new, cavernous Italian restaurant in Northwest Washington, which has spread from its original location in Manhattan.
His phrasing was strikingly similar to Fenty's campaign advertising: Fenty has made "tough, smart decisions" and Fenty "gets the job done."
Pointing to a lower crime rate and improvements in the school district, Bloomberg said the city "shouldn't run the risk of [losing] all the progress that has been made."
The endorsement comes 28 days before the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, Fenty's chief challenger, has been gaining momentum with endorsements from labor unions and victories at Democratic straw polls.
Since losing the Democratic straw poll in his home base of Ward 4 two weeks ago, Fenty has shifted his campaign strategy, promising to be nicer and more inclusive and releasing two TV spots attacking Gray's record as director of the Department of Human Services in the 1990s.
The Gray campaign made light of Bloomberg's endorsement in an e-mail to supporters from campaign manager Adam Rubinson: "For some reason, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coming here today to advise District residents on how they should vote. As a result, it's probable that we'll come up short with voters in New York. All the same, we'll take our chances with our endorsements from organizations and individuals here in the District."
The Bloomberg visit to the District appeared to be an effort to bring attention to Fenty's education reform -- an accomplishment that polls show resonates with many voters.
The nuts and bolts of Fenty's public education reform -- taking over the school district, stripping the school board of its power, and appointing a deputy mayor for education and a schools chancellor -- are borrowed from what Fenty has called "the Bloomberg model."
When Fenty was looking for a schools chancellor, he took the advice of New York Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and appointed Michelle A. Rhee, a former teacher who was little known outside education circles.
Bloomberg tried to keep reporters focused on the endorsement, although the well-attended news conference drew more questions about Bloomberg's stance on construction of an Islamic complex near Ground Zero. Bloomberg has passionately defended the right of the complex to locate there as an issue of religious freedom.
Fenty said he, too, supports religious freedom but deferred to Bloomberg to talk "specifics."
Fenty, 39, has long been an admirer of Bloomberg, 68. Fenty said Tuesday that the endorsement "brings my political career full circle."
Behind the scenes, the mayor's public persona and the public perception that he is arrogant, which worried Fenty's friends and advisers last fall, are similar to issues that hampered Bloomberg's 2009 reelection bid.
Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican turned independent, spent $90 million of his own money to eke out a 51 to 46 percent victory against the lesser-financed Bill Thompson, a former comptroller and school board member. Voters said they were turned off by Bloomberg's maneuvering to change the city's term-limits law, which allowed him to extend his political career with a third term.
Fenty is on pace to make the Democratic primary one of the most expensive mayoral contests in city history. The most recent campaign finance filing showed him raising a total of $4.7 million -- nearly double the amount he spent in his win in the 2006 primary.
He has also been criticized for circumventing city law, particularly in the rerouting of millions of dollars in funds around the Council and through the D.C. Housing Authority to build recreation centers, parks and ballfields. Contracts for those projects were awarded to firms with ties to Fenty.