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D.C. Mayor Fenty defends management style as he begins campaign for second term

Fenty supporter, Rebecca Fishman Harris, holds a sign at event for Fenty re-election bid. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 11, 2010

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty knows that some people dislike his management style but insisted Saturday that his leadership has led to better public schools, a lower homicide rate and more efficient city agencies.

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Cheering volunteers filled his Georgia Avenue campaign headquarters Saturday as Fenty (D) launched his reelection bid. Fenty said he has "ruffled some feathers" since taking office in 2007, but always to make the city better.

"We pledged early on that we would not always make the politically popular decision," Fenty said, adding that he should be awarded a second term as the city's top executive.

In the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, Fenty faces 10 challengers, including D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who has edged him out in early polls, which also show a waning approval rating for Fenty. African Americans, in particular, have been turned off by the 39-year-old mayor. He said he would spend the next few months "reminding people that tough decision-making is the way to go if you really want real change."

Several of Fenty's actions resulted in protest and, in some instances, legal reversals, such as terminating social workers involved in the case of a mother who killed her four children and setting up checkpoints in the Trinidad neighborhood after a spate of violence.

The city was ordered to rehire some of the social workers, and the checkpoints were struck down as illegal. Fenty did not apologize for any of those decisions.

And he praised the decision of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to close several schools despite the backlash she received. "I say: Hallelujah! Keep it up. And I think it's a breath of fresh air," he said.

Throughout the speech, Fenty returned to this mantra: "We did it because it was the right thing to do."

He was joined on a small stage by his wife, Michelle, baby daughter Aerin and parents, Jan and Phil Fenty. (Twin sons Matthew and Andrew were playing in a baseball game, he said.)

Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the successor to his council seat, had a lighter take on Fenty's theme before introducing him to the crowd.

"It ain't easy being green, is it?" she asked, referring to Fenty's campaign color and the "Green Team," the nickname for his supporters.

Volunteers waved campaign signs at nearby Georgia and Missouri avenues and in front of the headquarters, which used to house Curtis Chevrolet.

The event drew three protesters, who argued with Fenty volunteers outside the headquarters and held handwritten posters that read "RECALL FENTY." Keith Lomax, a friend of Fenty's since high school, confronted them. "I'm going to do something to you," he told protester Randy Brown. "People are trying to get into the building."

Brown said in an interview that he lives in Capitol Hill and opposes the changes in the school system under Rhee.

Volunteers tried to drown out Brown, who had a microphone and hand-held speaker, with a call-and-response of "Give me an F-E-N-T-Y." Inside the headquarters, music ranged from McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," a favorite of political rallies, to Kanye West's "Stronger."

The crowd was filled with familiar faces: government workers, Fenty appointees to boards and commissions, fraternity brothers and Ward 4 residents who have supported him since he defeated Charlene Drew Jarvis for her Ward 4 council seat in 2000.

Some of Fenty's staunchest supporters said he is giving residents what they asked for. "People want change," said Jean Harris, a retired financial analyst who lives in the Chillum neighborhood. "They want to see change happen. Then when he's implementing what he feels is needed, they go into culture shock."

Another supporter, Page Crosland, a consultant who lives in Chevy Chase, offered advice: "There are people who are opposed to change no matter what. He's got to improve his message."

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