D.C. mayoral rivals make final pitches to voters

By Mike DeBonis and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010; C05

Leading candidates for the District mayoralty kicked off the final stretch of campaigning Saturday, seeking to get their voters to the polls before the end of voting Tuesday.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) began his day mobilizing about 100 volunteers downtown, while main rival D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) whipped up about 200 supporters in a raucous "pep rally" at a Shaw church.

In comments to his supporters, Fenty compared his reelection campaign to a footrace.

"We want to make sure . . . that we're just sprinting to the finish line," said Fenty, an elite-level athlete who is set to participate in the Nation's Triathlon on Sunday morning. "When we race, we race to win."

Gray, widely believed to be the front-runner, used both candidates' campaign colors to rally his supporters.

"Over the last few months, this city has become a sea of blue," Gray said at the rally, held in the gymnasium of Shiloh Baptist Church. "I know a bunch of other people who are green with envy."

After more than two dozen forums and debates, Fenty and Gray are using the final three days of campaigning to sharpen their messages and step up efforts to get supporters to the polls.

After the Fenty rally, volunteers equipped with maps piled into rented vans and headed into city neighborhoods to canvass for votes.

Among the mostly young volunteers were several Fenty administration officials, including schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who was assigned to visit homes in Tenleytown.

"I'm going to do whatever they tell me to do," she said.

But Rhee's emergence on the stump remains controversial to some people. At the Gray rally, a member of the State Board of Education said she was alarmed by Rhee's door-to-door campaigning.

"I think it is inappropriate for any superintendent of a school system to campaign for an elected official," said Lisa Raymond, who represents Ward 6 on the elected board, which sets standards for city schools. "A superintendent is supposed to represent all children, all families, not just those who support one individual."

Fenty continues to make his education reform efforts the focus of his message.

On Friday evening, Fenty and Rhee hosted a reception at Union Station for hundreds of teachers rated highly under a new evaluation system, on the day that D.C. Public Schools teachers received $45 million in retroactive raises under the terms of a new contract.

The system touted the payments as teachers' "biggest payday ever."

In his speech to supporters at the church, Gray said he also supports school reform.

But he said "parents will not be kept out of the process of education in a Gray administration."

On Sunday, Gray is scheduled to attend services at two churches, in Shaw and Brookland, before attending a church-sponsored groundbreaking in Shaw and an afternoon prayer vigil.

In an interview with reporters Saturday, Gray jabbed Fenty for deciding to compete in the triathlon instead of engaging in the traditional pre-election hunt for votes in churches on the Sunday before the election.

"He hasn't really supported churches in the entire time he's been mayor," said Gray, noting that Fenty scrapped the Office of Religious Affairs. "I think him not going to churches tomorrow really symbolizes how he's been in the last four years."

Fenty said his schedule over the last days of the campaign represent "a microcosm of what we've done" in his mayoral term. Midday Saturday, Fenty opened a $400,000 dog park in Ward 3, near McLean Gardens.

On Sunday afternoon, Fenty is scheduled to attend a premiere of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," which touts Rhee's education reform efforts, before attending a Washington Redskins game in the evening. Fenty and Gray also plan to campaign Sunday at the Adams Morgan Day festival.

Both candidates continue to focus on the other's perceived negatives. Fenty tried to bring attention to Gray's tenure as city human services director two decades ago, saying Gray is "basically in bed with the same special interest groups who got this government into trouble in the first place in the early '90s."

Gray, meanwhile, continued to press allegations that the Fenty campaign had sought to exchange campaign jobs for votes. "We're going to win on September 14, but we're going to do it the old-fashioned way," he said. "We're going to earn it, not buy it."

Saturday was the last day of early voting. On Friday, elections officials said that more than 15,000 residents had voted -- more than 10 percent of the anticipated turnout.

Polls are closed Sunday, but voters may cast ballots Monday at the One Judiciary Square office building from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Polls at 143 precincts open at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.

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