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How Adrian Fenty lost his reelection bid for D.C. mayor

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Adrian Fenty, the youngest mayor in four decades of home rule, lost the Democratic mayoral primary to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

Almost immediately, friends began urging the mayor to shift gears: He needed to show contrition. He needed to prove to Washingtonians that he understood their disappointment with him. More than ever, he needed to apologize.

Neil O. Albert, the city administrator, and council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) helped assemble a list of more than 100 activists and former supporters for Fenty to call. On Aug. 11, during a debate with Gray, he inched closer to a mea culpa, saying, "I haven't done a good job of communicating and including people."

On Aug. 29, The Washington Post published the results of a poll that put into numbers what many in the Fenty campaign had feared. The mayor for months had refused to conduct a poll. Now he learned that he trailed Gray by 17 points among likely Democratic voters, a margin that seemed too much to make up with slightly more than two weeks to go. His wife, Michelle, later described herself and the mayor as "shocked" at the poll.

On that Sunday morning, Fenty summoned his staff members to campaign headquarters. He stood in the middle of the large room, pacing as he spoke, then grabbing a chair and sitting down, urging them not to lose hope.

Remember his race against council member Charlene Drew Jarvis in 2000? He had been the underdog and he had won. Or how about Obama after Hillary Rodham Clinton had surprised him in New Hampshire?

You get down, Fenty said, but you bounce back. This is when the work begins.

The staff erupted in cheers, some grabbing the mayor's hands as they chanted, "One, two, three! Fenty!"

Three days later, at the last of the debates, Fenty asked for forgiveness and a second chance and said that "even mayors can make mistakes and that people can learn from their mistakes," words not unlike those his advisers had proposed he tell voters more than two months before, when they urged him to apologize.

By September, though, an electorate once electrified by Adrian Fenty's youth and energy no longer seemed to be listening.


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