Mayor Adrian Fenty, late in tough reelection campaign, tries to make amends

In an interview last week, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty explains the shift in his campaign to be contrite, saying that he will be a better mayor if reelected.
By Nikita Stewart
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has been checking off a long list.

An Advisory Neighborhood Commission member in Brightwood. A deacon at a Takoma church. A community activist in Chevy Chase.

They were identified by his reelection campaign as used-to-be, could-be supporters who have walked away from the 39-year-old mayor, turned off by the persistent perception that he is arrogant, that he is incapable of listening to opposing views and, worse, that he doesn't care.

Acknowledging that he is in a tougher reelection campaign than he ever foresaw, Fenty is admitting failings in his bid for a second term and is modifying his pitch to D.C. residents at candidate forums, in interviews and in a TV ad released last week. Discreetly, he is also contacting voters to apologize for dismissing their views and promising to be more inclusive if reelected. Over the past few weeks, he has called at least 100 of these activists and other voters.

Rattled by the strong showing of challenger Vincent C. Gray, the D.C. Council chairman, in the Democratic primary race, Fenty has turned the campaign trail into a tour of contrition -- a path supporters and advisers privately say he was not initially willing to travel.

"We were so focused on getting results, we . . . didn't take into account people's feelings and their desire to be heard and listened to," Fenty said in an interview. "There's a lot of people who right now may be on the fence or thinking about voting against me who we've probably done a lot [for] in their community. But because we've just been focused on doing it rather than doing it with them, they don't feel as good about it as I would have thought just by delivering the results."

The softening of his tenor is a sharp turn from just four months ago, when he opened a reelection campaign headquarters with a markedly unapologetic speech. Yes, he had "ruffled some feathers," he said then. Yes, he had made some "unpopular decisions." But, he said again and again, "we did it because it was the right thing to do."

Fenty, who sources say wrote his latest TV ad, now says he was wrong.

Samantha Nolan, the community activist on the list, got a knock on the door of her Chevy Chase home one late afternoon. She couldn't recall the day, but it was hot, so she invited Fenty to come inside.

"I don't feel comfortable talking about what I discussed with him," she said, adding that his humility, however, won her over. "It's good when you have a one-on-one with a candidate. . . . I like the fact that he's still out there and he can listen to his shortcomings."

"There's no such thing as a perfect candidate," she said. "There are nice guys out there, and there are people out there with great experience who are not people people. To find everything in one package is asking a lot.

"After four years with Fenty, we're definitely in a better place."

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