By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; B01
On a recent Sunday afternoon, 84-year-old Minnie Green invited me to sit a spell at her home in Northwest Washington. Just to chat and chuckle about the D.C. mayor's race. Nothing like the wit and wisdom of someone who has lived long enough to tell wheat from chaff.
"I remember Adrian's first campaign for mayor and how people were saying, 'Oh, Miss Minnie, he's so young and energetic,' " said Green, referring to Mayor Adrian Fenty, who is seeking reelection. "I tried to caution them. Adrian and I were buddies, but there was something in that bonehead that just didn't click with me."
That "something," she said, was arrogance, a trait that has emerged as a defining issue in a Democratic primary that pits Fenty, 39, against D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, 67. Green supports Gray. "He has a big heart," she said, "a big brain and enough humility to at least stop and speak."
For Fenty supporters, what some call arrogance is no more than a manifestation of the young mayor's self-confidence and take-charge attitude.
Responding to a Washington Post poll taken early this year that showed Fenty's popularity in a nose dive, D.C. resident Diane Gaffney fired off a letter to the editor: "Well, if arrogance is what it takes to get things done in this city for the first time in 30 to 40 years, then bring on the arrogance! Who cares whether the majority don't find Fenty . . . warm and fuzzy?"
A record $4.2 million in donations to the Fenty campaign so far -- along with a recent endorsement by The Washington Post -- suggests that a lot of people don't care.
But to Green, a longtime community activist in Petworth, arrogance is no mere personality quirk but a character flaw often rooted in self-deception and a false sense of superiority.
"As soon as Adrian became mayor, he tore his drawers by hoarding baseball tickets for his cronies," Green said. "Then he went from petty to pathetic by trying to throw a reception for a fraternity with taxpayers' money and then, after getting caught, still gave millions of dollars in . . . contracts to his friends. That's what arrogance does. It keeps you from admitting your mistakes and makes it impossible for you to learn from them."
Although Green speaks only for herself, her sentiments resonate through a network of like-minded matriarchs that makes up the spiritual backbone of the city. You'll find them in churches everywhere: in the sanctuary, prayerful and singing praise; in the basement, cooking and serving; in the pulpit, preaching the virtues of humility and the pitfalls of pride.
At the height of the city's drug and homicide epidemic in the late 1980s and early '90's, many of them -- including Green -- emerged as fearless leaders of the Orange and Red Hat anti-crime patrols. They would not be intimidated by the young guns.
And neither is Gray, who Green sees as cut from the same servant's cloth.
"He can relate to people in need and knows how to draw on community resources to help them," Green said, noting that Gray was director of Covenant House in Southeast Washington before becoming council chairman. "When Adrian goes anywhere near poor people, he sticks out like a sore thumb."
Green also scoffs at those who would give Fenty too much credit for improving schools, making neighborhoods safer and streets cleaner.
"Anybody with half a brain knows that Anthony Williams [the previous, two-term mayor] transformed this city, whether you like how he did it or not," she said. "Basically, Adrian hopped on a moving train. Anthony left the city with reserves of more than $1 billion, which has since disappeared, and now Adrian has taken to raiding the rainy-day fund."
With budget cuts looming large and the prospect of old programs being de-funded to make way for anything new, Green says, "I would rather have someone with a heart making those decisions; not a hatchet."
At the end of our chat, I noticed, in a back room, a wall covered with awards for her years of community service. Among them was a D.C. Council resolution declaring June 28, 2006, as "Minnie Green Day in the District." It was sponsored by then D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty -- a nice gesture even though the plaque featured a photograph of himself instead of her.
"Don't even mention it," she said.
More to her liking was a potted plant that Gray gave her recently.
"I call it my love plant," Green said, stroking the buds. "And I'm going to make it grow."