Fenty, Kaine Travel in Own Styles
Handling of Trips Offers View Into How They Govern
Saturday, April 25, 2009
When Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine departed last week for seven days in Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, it appeared to be just the kind of jaunt that has recently exposed another area public official to a heavy dose of criticism.
Much as D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had done, Kaine funded the journey to the Middle East in part with donations from foreign governments. But whereas Fenty was roundly criticized by city leaders and activists for accepting $25,000 from the UAE to make a week-long visit to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Kaine has received nothing but support for his travels -- even from some of his toughest critics.
"I don't fault the governor," Del. William R. Janis (R-Goochland) said. "I'm glad Virginia taxpayers aren't picking up the tab."
How the two Democrats handled questions about overseas travel offers a window into their starkly different governing styles. And as Kaine returns to Virginia today, it's evident that those approaches yielded noticeably different results.
Kaine announced his trip ahead of time, saying it would spur economic partnerships. He explained that $32,000 of the $71,000 cost would be paid by the state, with the rest split among the governments of Israel and Morocco and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a lobbying group. He held a news conference before he left and spoke to reporters from Dubai this week.
By contrast, Fenty left town, wife and twin sons in tow, without telling the public. Only after he returned and was pressed by reporters did the mayor disclose that he had been in the UAE, that the country had paid for the trip and that he had attended a women's tennis tournament that became controversial after the UAE denied an Israeli player a visa. He has not explained the purpose of the trip.
"Everything should be open and transparent," said D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), head of the Committee on Economic Development. "I didn't know anything about it."
For his part, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has been to Ireland three times -- financed by an Irish university, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Irish Institute of Boston College. And a state agency paid for an Israel trip. He has been open about the travel and has faced nothing in the way of harsh scrutiny in response.
Kaine said he was invited to visit Israel and Morocco six months ago. He decided to add a one-day trip to Dubai because the state is engaged in confidential negotiations with a UAE company to open a facility in Virginia.
"Given that we were going to be in the Middle East, it was the perfect opportunity to come and make the personal case," Kaine said from Dubai. "What we find on these deals is personal presence really means something."
The governor was joined on the trip by his wife, first lady Anne Holton, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Patrick O. Gottschalk, two state police officers (for security) and one other state employee.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) characterized the trip as worthwhile as long as it promoted economic development goals. Some lawmakers even praised him for saving taxpayer dollars by accepting the foreign funding.