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Fenty's legacy, like his tenure, may be marked by polarizing views

Adrian Fenty, the youngest mayor in four decades of home rule, lost the Democratic mayoral primary to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 9:28 PM

In one term, the administration of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty completed massive construction and renovation projects - 120 schools, recreation centers, parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, according to city statistics.

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In some areas, Fenty outperformed his predecessors, including two-term mayor Anthony A. Williams, whom many credit with pulling the District back from the brink of financial collapse. Fenty is credited with driving the transformation of several neighborhoods, securing mayoral control of schools and ousting perceived critics of reform.

Dan Tangherlini, who served as Fenty's city administrator for 2½ years, said he thinks the mayor's political epitaph is indelible. "He will be remembered in many ways as the mayor who built off the reforms begun under Mayor Williams and took them to the next level," he said. "I don't know if there's any one school or park or recreation center. . . . He should have his name chiseled on an awful lot of them."

Others see the departing mayor as a polarizing figure, a cocktail of ruthless hypocrisy (he turned his back on some neighborhoods and wasn't transparent, some thought), misguided loyalty (he awarded million-dollar contracts to fraternity brothers and unconditionally backed former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee) and imperious leadership.

Some Fenty supporters felt pushed away, said Anwar Saleem, a founder and director of H Street Main Street, a group that has guided changes in the Northeast corridor. "They want more inclusion in government. They want to be heard," he said. "Adrian, in my view, had the opportunity to be mayor for eight to 12 years. The way he handled himself to a certain degree, his communication skills, really hurt him." Fenty "didn't communicate with the common man."

Ben Soto, a close friend of Fenty's and his campaign treasurer from his 2000 run for D.C. Council to his unsuccessful reelection bid in September, said: "When he meets resistance, he presses harder . . . It just made him push harder. Adrian's the type of guy - you're either with him, or you're against him. There is no gray area. No pun intended." Fenty's successor is D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

But for Fenty, this is not a time for reflection.

The triathlete in him won't allow it - not until his run as mayor ends Jan. 2.

"If anything, it's just sort of running through the tape," he said, "to use a sports metaphor."

It's too soon to gauge how Fenty will rank among 21st-century mayors, but he has often urged those who would judge him to look beyond his brash - if at times autocratic - governing style and examine the results. He declined to give an interview to discuss his legacy.

Perhaps one of the best ways to try to ascertain Fenty's imprint on the District is to study the transformation of the H Street corridor, a project that won him both praise and criticism.

H Street renewal

The revitalization of H Street - an area, like others in the District, that was ravaged by the 1968 riots and decades of neglect - began before Fenty. Williams sought to inject life into the battered boulevard and create mixed-income communities, goals that Fenty adopted despite suspicion by some in the black community that the project was an effort to price them out of the neighborhood.

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