Fenty admits 'underdog' status in D.C. mayor's race; Gray cautions supporters

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
By Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2010

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said Sunday he's "the underdog" in his reelection campaign against D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray but that he can still win the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

Fenty said it is time for voters and the media to more closely scrutinize Gray, whom the mayor accused of numerous ethical lapses. A Washington Post poll published Sunday showed Gray with a 17-point lead among likely voters.

"People have asked tough questions of me for the past four years and, from what I can tell, we have answered all the questions," Fenty said at a news conference at United Medical Center in Southeast. "Now, let's see how my opponent does under the same types of tough questions."

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Gray's campaign said on Sunday that the numbers are not surprising because they mirror the results of several earlier polls showing Fenty with less than 40 percent of the vote. At a campaign event, Gray said the election is "eminently winnable" but warned his supporters not to celebrate poll numbers.

"You know what that does? That breeds complacency," he said. "We need to redouble our efforts."

( Photos: Battling for votes in the District. )

Early voting starts Monday in the Democratic primary, and political strategist Chuck Thies said Fenty must get his supporters more engaged in the election. The poll found that 40 percent of Gray's supporters said they were certain to vote, compared with a quarter of Fenty's.

"He has to strike fear in the hearts of his base and ask them to mobilize like they did four years ago and get off their sofas . . . to sound the alarm." said Thies, who is not aligned with either campaign but plans to vote for Gray. "He has to say, 'Everything we worked for four years ago is at risk.' "

Among likely voters, Fenty trails Gray 53 percent to 36 percent, even though a majority of voters think the city is headed in the right direction.

In the time remaining, Fenty said he will continue to highlight Gray's tenure as the head of the Department of Human Services in the early 1990s and raise questions about work done on Gray's Hillcrest home by a politically connected developer. Fenty also noted that Gray was under investigation last year for using council stationery to solicit a donation for the D.C. Democratic Committee, and that he failed to get the proper permits for a fence at his home that he had to tear down.

Gray advisers said Fenty still has a big money advantage for a get-out-the-vote push. The Gray campaign is bracing for more attacks from the mayorand plans to try to deflect them by accusing the mayor of being desperate.

"If I was down 13, 17 points, I would turn every stone," Gray said in an interview. "The stones have already been turned."

In addition to questioning Gray's ethics, Fenty said he will be step up efforts to reach out to voters, especially African Americans, to try to ease voters' concerns about his personality and leadership style.

"Where I miscalculated as mayor was, yes, you absolutely have to produce results, but along the way, there has to be a communication and connection with residents that bring them along and convince them they are part of those," Fenty said. "When you make mistakes, you have to acknowledge it, explain it and learn from it and change."

On Sunday, Fenty continued his efforts to reach out to the city's go-go community by coming to the defense of singer Anwan "Big G" Glover, who said he lost his job Friday as a radio personality on WKYS (93.9 FM) for refusing to curtail his vocal support of the mayor.

Glover, an actor who has appeared in HBO's "The Wire" and "Treme," said station management gave him an "ultimatum" because he was featured in a Fenty campaign radio ad.

At a news conference, Glover and Fenty said the station had violated his First Amendment rights. Glover and Fenty suggested that Gray was behind his ouster, but the chairman said he does not know Glover.

A WKYS official said the station would comment on the matter on Monday.

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