Outlook: Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray and the politics of race and class in D.C.

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Robert McCartney
Monday, August 30, 2010; 11:00 AM

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Robert McCartney: Let's get started now.

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Who to vote for?: Dear Mr. McCartney, Great article. Thanks for the analysis. You describe Fenty as post-racial and results-oriented. You infer that Gray is more race-concious, but doesn't go to the level of Marion Barry. Given that analysis, shouldn't it be clear that Fenty is the better choice for the future of the city? Sure, Vincent Gray may be more fun to have a beer with, but why should the city change horses in mid-stream? Is it better to have an effective jerk, or a personable deliberative questioner with a suspect track record?

Robert McCartney: At the same time, there's no question that Fenty's personal style, especially aloofness from voters and community leaders, has cost him.

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Rocci Fisch: Analysis: Poll shows voters like Fenty's achievements, but maybe not his style

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Article ignores real issues: Very disappointed in this article. People in this city are concerned about unemployment, crime, and corruption. Why does your article completely ignore that?

Robert McCartney: As for crime, Fenty gets credit for reducing the homicide rate, although D.C. has benefited from a national trend on that. A lot of people think other kinds of crime haven't received enough attention.

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Gray is grey: Gray is so old, why run for mayor now? If has serious mayoral ambitions, he should have run for mayor a long time ago. If Gray wins, it'll be because of Fenty, not because of Gray. I don't see how D.C. moves ahead because of that.

Robert McCartney: People close to Gray say he told them he wouldn't have run for mayor except he found it so difficult working with Fenty as Council Chairman.I agree that if Gray wins, it'll be first because so many voters decided they just didn't want Fenty anymore. That's a precondition for ousting an incumbent. But Gray still has to convince people that he's a good alternative.

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Polls: Is Fenty REALLY on the verge of losing this election?

Robert McCartney: A number of prominent Fenty supporters have told me -- albeit not for attribution -- that they think the mayor is in serious trouble and, at this point, likely to lose.To turn it around, undecided voters -- most of whom are whites -- will have to break almost entirely for Fenty. Plus, white turnout will have to be higher, and black turnout lower, than our poll anticipates.

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Worst Politician Ever?: Good article, but if Fenty's "strategy" was wrong, you'd expect a man of the people-type politician to notice a long time ago. If there has ever been a politician to squander such advantages -- youth, money, incumbency, declining crime -- I can't think of who it is. This election shouldn't even be close, but he's completely blown it.

Robert McCartney: That has hurt him. Even Tony Williams, his wonkish predecessor, met with community leaders despite being somewhat uncomfortable about doing so.

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Elections: If Fenty loses the primary, can he still run as an independent in the citywide elections in November?

Robert McCartney: I think that's very unlikely.

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Example(s) to follow: In terms of boosting the economic development of a city without simultaneously driving out its poorer people, can you think of an example that stands out as something the next mayor may want to draw on?

Robert McCartney:

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White/black votes in D.C.: I keep hearing that blacks don't want to vote for Fenty because he's not in touch with their needs. These are the same blacks who would vote Marion Barry back as mayor. I don't think these people are looking for an effective leader who's willing to make changes for the betterment of the city or people. They just want someone who will coddle them.

Robert McCartney: One could argue that young affluent urbanists want to be "coddled" by having the city pay for their dog parks rather than helping the jobless.

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What some people notice and others apparently don't: If anyone wonders why many people are uneasy about the entire direction of D.C., they need look no further than two recent weekend sections of the Post, which celebrated businesses and street life on 14th Street NW and H Street NE, with almost nothing but white faces in the pictures and little or no recognition of the massive displacement of working class blacks from those neighborhoods. Both Fenty and Gray (though to a lesser extent) seem to shrug this off as "market forces at work" that can't be avoided, but not everyone brings that same benign perspective to the issue when it's either them or their friends and relatives who have been displaced. Of course the Post's complete obliviousness (to the point of celebration) to this radical racial and class shift in many of the old line black working class neighborhoods is worthy of a separate discussion in itself. But that's for another day.

Robert McCartney: I have a personal interest in this, obviously, but that seems to me to be a pretty good counterexample to rebut your accusation.

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Fenty, Gray: Come on! Why didn't you mention the integrity issue? Well managed growth can be a good thing-- even if that means different things to different people. No one is in favor of breaking the law to give his inexperienced unqualified cronies $85 million in contracts (aka TAXPAYER funded contracts) to build park and recreation centers

Robert McCartney: But I think the District has had it worse in the past.

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Rocci Fisch: Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray and the politics of race and class in D.C.

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What's gotten worse under Fenyty?: Have services for the poor eroded under Fenty?Also, why aren't the residents of the city who almost certainly pay more in taxes entitled to a few dog parks?Also, since when did public transportation become for elites?

Robert McCartney: Public transportation isn't for elites, but that's not really an issue here -- except that residents east of the Anacostia River would like a lot more bus service, on which they rely heavily.

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Education: Based on the fact that not all students take the DC-CAS and that some subjects are still not tested--which implies that not all teachers are evaluated by the same criteria--what changes will be made to the IMPACT evaluation system to make it fair to all teachers? Why does my students' progress have to be compared to the progress of a so-called "students like yours" knowing that no two sets of students are exactly the same?

Robert McCartney:

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Rhee's future: People assume if Fenty wins, Rhee stays. I don't buy it. Both want all the credit, none of the blame, and don't work well with others. One example, Giuliani fired his widely admired Police Chief Ray Kelly, because he couldn't stand him taking credit for the city improving. Why do you think Fenty and Rhee would make it 4 more years, especially when she's got a new husband in California?

Robert McCartney: She's become a very nationally prominent figure in education reform in just three years. To walk away would hurt her reputation badly, and rightly so. And I'm not sure Rhee would go for it, anyway.

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Demographic shift of the city: I'm surprised that you didn't comment that the question about H Street bemoaned the fact that white people were deigning to live in the neighborhood. There remains a part of the city that strenuously opposes non-African Americans living there, and it's just as ugly as comments that people want to be "coddled".

Robert McCartney: Here's another perspective on racial tensions.

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Courtland Milloy's take on Fenty: Mr. McCartney: Milloy, who has covered D.C. for years, has written provocatively that a big reason Fenty is in trouble is that he has not been sufficiently diligent in building alliances with African-American women, whom Milloy thinks will determine the outcome of this election. He mentioned one occasion when Fenty, rather abruptly, called off a meeting with the late civil rights icon Dorothy Height. Is the gender issue as big a problem for Fenty as Milloy believes? Thanks.

Robert McCartney: a clear majority of the voters. Also, as Courtland described, female civic and neighborhood leaders have a lot of influence in the black community. If Fenty has lost them, as he apparently has, it bodes badly for him.

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Downtown DC: I've lived in D.C .for over 15 years now, and what strikes me is that this is the first mayoral campaign where I feel like I can live with both candidates. I'll probably vote for Fenty, but my (few) problems with Gray have to do with style and not substance. It's rather a nice feeling, almost like a luxury we've finally earned.

Robert McCartney: Hear, hear. I'm ending the chat now on this good point -- which has received insufficient attention. I think both candidates are serious, experienced political and governmental leaders. They have different approaches and different strengths, but either one would be fine, in my estimation.Apologies to people who sent questions that I didn't get to answer. Many of them are quite interesting and intelligent, but I just don't have time.No matter whom you support, be sure to VOTE !!!


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