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Gray defeats Fenty as voters choose conciliatory approach over brash tactics
"I know some people consider him arrogant and unfriendly, but I feel he had to make some tough decisions and he did it," said Amy Thompson, 42, a white American University Park homeowner who has five children in the public schools. "I feel like city services are running well. I call for bulk trash pickup, and they are there in three days. That hasn't always happened."
But across town in the Lamond Riggs neighborhood of Northeast, Victor Cumber voted for Gray because he felt the mayor had lost touch with the people who put him in office four years ago. "Fenty is trying to do some things for the city, but I don't see him doing things for the people," said Cumber, 58, who is black. "People need jobs, and the kids need to be taken care of. Why did he have to close some schools and get rid of their teachers?"
Many residents expected that a mayor who won office by knocking on tens of thousands of doors in every neighborhood would be accessible and would make certain that top appointments as well as city jobs would go to D.C. residents. But Fenty's failure to attend funerals of some victims of last year's Metro crash or to schedule a meeting with civil rights icon Dorothy Height became public relations debacles.
Although Fenty pumped millions of dollars into summer jobs for youths, many residents complained that he responded inadequately to soaring unemployment, particularly in wards 7 and 8, where the jobless rate far outpaces the national average.
Fenty's most high-profile initiative -- the takeover and reform of the city's long-troubled public schools -- drew equal praise and criticism for the appointment of Rhee and the terminations of hundreds of teachers and central office staff.
The teacher firings, as well as the closings of two dozen schools, affected African Americans most directly. In a Washington Post poll two weeks ago, Gray led Fenty among black Democrats by a margin of 64 percent to 19 percent. Among white Democrats, Fenty led Gray by 64 to 28 percent. Tuesday's outcome suggests African Americans, who have seen their share of the city's population drop from 70 percent in 1980 to just 54 percent today, are still a dominant force in city elections when they rally behind one candidate. Gray, like Fenty a native Washingtonian, campaigned on a theme of "One City," and appeared to be faring better among white voters than Fenty did among blacks.
With no Republican filing to run for mayor, some GOP leaders planned to write-in Fenty's name Tuesday in hopes he might run in the general election as their party's nominee. But Fenty, a lifelong Democrat, said last week that he would not accept the GOP nomination or run a write-in campaign in the general election.
A Gray victory recasts the balance of power in city government, likely giving more influence to teachers, public employee unions and other labor, business and neighborhood groups that endorsed him. Gray campaigned on a platform that included more funding for early childhood education and support for the University of the District of Columbia, increased job training, deployment of more police officers in neighborhoods and a more inclusive approach to school reform.
Much of the campaign, however, centered on a clash of personalities and nasty accusations between Fenty and Gray over who was more ethical. Gray repeatedly attacked Fenty over allegations that he steered city contracts to two of his fraternity brothers. Fenty, in turn, raised questions about Gray's role in awarding a lucrative D.C. Lottery contract to a businessman with ties to some council members.
Fenty also tried to paint Gray, who headed the troubled Department of Human Services in the early 1990s, as a failed manager too closely aligned to former mayors Sharon Pratt and Marion Barry. Gray, who will face nominees in November from the Statehood Green and Socialist Workers parties even if Republicans fail to run a candidate, said he did not intend to make personnel decisions until after that election.
But Gray will probably face mounting pressure to indicate whether he'd try to keep Rhee as chancellor or, if she leaves, whether a transition would take place in the middle of the current school year. Gray said over the weekend that he would try to meet with Rhee shortly after the primary "so we can get a sense where she is, and where I am, and what the chemistry will be with her as chancellor and me as mayor." Some council members moved Tuesday to urge Gray to keep Rhee on for two more years.
A Gray win also throws into doubt the futures of other high-profile figures in Fenty's government, including Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and transportation chief Gabe Klein, who has headed up a drive to add dozens of miles of bicycle lanes to city streets. Gray has acknowledged that Lanier, who has an 80 percent approval rating in some polls, has been effective, but leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police, which was among the first organizations to back the chairman, have frequently sparred with her.