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D.C. election didn't just unseat abrasive Mayor Fenty. It was a populist revolt.

By Courtland Milloy
Thursday, September 16, 2010; B01

In a stunning repudiation of divisive, autocratic leadership, District residents Tuesday toppled the city's ruling troika: Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. All busted up. The trio's contempt for everyday people was handed back to them in spades at the polls.

Payback is a . . . well, you know what they say.

And people who need more time to gloat and wave their fists, take it. I know that the presumptive mayor-elect, Vincent Gray, is calling for healing, as he promised on the campaign trail. And that's all good.

But Fenty was a cruel mayor. He inflicted deep hurts, not little boo-boos that you kiss and blow to heaven and make feel okay overnight.

Air out those wounds.

Having taken office promising to cradle the most vulnerable residents, Fenty set out almost immediately shooting the wounded. Closing homeless shelters. Forgetting about job-training programs. Firing city workers with the wave of a callous hand -- black female heads of households more often than not.

Fenty boasted of being a hard-charging, can-do mayor. But he couldn't find time to meet with 98-year-old Dorothy Height and 82-year-old Maya Angelou. Respect for elders -- that's too old school for Fenty. Dis the sistas -- his supporters will understand.

Watch them at the chic new eateries, Fenty's hip newly arrived "creative class" firing up their "social media" networks whenever he's under attack: Why should the mayor have to stop his work just to meet with some old biddies, they tweet. Who cares if the mayor is arrogant as long as he gets the job done?

Myopic little twits.

And lordy don't complain about Rhee.

She's creating a "world-class school system," they text. As for you blacks: Don't you, like, even know what's good for you? So what if Fenty reneged on his promise to strengthen the city from the inside by helping the working poor move into the middle class. Nobody cares that he has opted to import a middle class, mostly young whites who can afford to pay high rent for condos that replaced affordable apartments.

Don't ask Fenty or Rhee whom this world-class school system will serve if low-income black residents are being evicted from his world-class city in droves.

You blacks, always playing the race card.

A word of advice to Gray: Do not overlook the bile on the ballot. The disappointment, anger, feelings of betrayal that propelled the D.C. Council chairman to victory have not burned out. Not quite.

What happened Tuesday involved more than just the unseating of a mayor with an abrasive style. It was a populist revolt against Fenty's arrogant efforts to restructure government on behalf of a privileged few. The scheme was odious: re-create a more sophisticated version of the plantation-style, federally appointed three-member commission that ruled the city for more than a century until 1967.

The Fenty troika eerily mirrored the old antebellum system of control, which featured a chairman for public works, which is what Fenty was, in essence; a chairman with expertise in legal maneuverings, Nickles; and a chairman for education and welfare issues, Rhee.

It all makes for a kind of friendly fascism in which D.C. government serves the interest of business leaders and landed gentry. Remarkably, his approach became much ballyhooed: Fenty, his supporters raved, was making the trains run on time. That people were falling off the caboose and being railroaded out of town was just the price of progress.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) actually used the term "lawless" to describe the Fenty regime. "He's broken the government and built in obstacles to any future success," she told me. It was going to be virtually impossible for Fenty to sustain what progress he'd made -- unless Congress crowned him king of the city.

Gray, as council chairman, called Rhee's budgeting practices "opaque," to put it mildly. Nickles, the council said, had a penchant for "stonewalling." Out in the neighborhoods, Fenty's long-standing moniker, "arrogant," was joined by others, such as "dictator" and "Napoleon wannabe" who allowed Nickles to "walk all over us" and who let Rhee "spit in our faces."

So people went to the polls and politely delivered a message: Most residents actually believe in representative democracy, thank you very much, messy though it may be.

You did it, D.C. And if it makes you want to holler, go right ahead.

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com.

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