Bloomberg and Fenty: More in common than you might think

The endorsement comes 28 days before Mayor Adrian M. Fenty faces D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.
By Mike DeBonis
Friday, August 20, 2010

The Big City Mayors Club held a summit meeting Tuesday.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, amid a kingmaking endorsement tour, rolled into town to offer his imprimatur to fellow mayor-cum-municipal-CEO Adrian M. Fenty.

Fenty basked in the approval of a politico he's sought to emulate from his earliest days. This is the guy who packed an Acela train car full of city officials and toted them up to New York in 2006 to show them what Big City Mayors do, the guy who tore walls out of a Wilson Building office suite to re-create Bloomberg's "bullpen."

"Mayor Bloomberg, along with Mayor [Richard M. Daley] in Chicago, represents, I think, the standard of a well-run, highly responsive, efficient manager running a city government like a private-sector business," Fenty said, minutes after Bloomberg told D.C. residents they're "really lucky to have this guy."

Bloomberg, of course, is just really lucky to still be in office after his last election.

What was meant to be a showcase for two politicians who have hammered bureaucracies into lean, 21st-century machines was also a showcase for two politicos who no longer enjoy the overwhelming popularity they once did.

Like Fenty today, Bloomberg and his war chest faced an underfinanced and underestimated opponent last year, beating Democrat Bill Thompson by less than five points.

The similarities are there for the picking: Fenty and Bloomberg are both viewed as prickly personalities who won political office as outsiders. Thompson was a well-liked political establishment figure who pledged to "represent all New Yorkers," much as Fenty foe Vincent C. Gray is running on his "one city" mantra.

Both Fenty and Bloomberg made early moves to take over city schools, each convinced that they, through force of will, would create progress where so many had failed. Both saw early gains in test scores, but both have the local media questioning the accuracy of their vast educational claims after recent retreats.

Where Mayor Mike alienated the electorate thanks mostly to pushing through an exception to city term limits to grant himself a third term, Fenty's political near-death experience comes thanks to more than one issue. And Bloomberg was a man willing to spend whatever it took, and he could do it out of his own pocket -- more than $100 million. Perhaps most important, he's also more self-possessed, more willing to use his mayoral swagger to cajole, convince and lead.

The city hall reporters on hand Tuesday quietly grumbled about how a flock of national media had shown up to question Bloomberg on the controversial mosque proposed for near the World Trade Center site. But their responses to those queries demonstrated the gulf between the Bloomberg and Fenty versions of big-city mayoring.

Bloomberg delivered an impassioned defense of the project, couched in an appeal to our higher principles, our better selves.

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