I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his central re-election problem: He's behind in the polls before this Tuesday's Democratic primary because, in short, many people just don't seem to like him. I keep asking myself what I would do if I lived a mile south and voted in the District instead of just working and spending time there.
I can empathize with District voters who say they find Fenty to be a jerk, that they don't think he listens to them and that he runs the city with an iron fist. Like everyone else in America, I've encountered unlikeable and off-putting colleagues and bosses in the workplace. I don't enjoy working with or for those kinds of people any more than some District residents like dealing with Mayor Fenty.
When I pull back from the emotional level, though, and think about what's more important, I realize I'd cast my vote for Fenty over D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray if I had a say come Tuesday. I've studied the mayor since the day I began working in the District three years ago. While I've never met him (or Gray) in person, my first impression of Fenty is the same one I carry today: Adrian Fenty is a mayor who is making the city of Washington a better place.
To be clear, if Fenty had the personal charm and manner of Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, there wouldn't even be a contested election in the District next week. Anyone who has ever seen Booker in person appreciates his infectious personality and the sense he conveys that he genuinely cares about what you have to say.
What Fenty may lack in those gifts, he more than makes up for in producing results.
Start with the reform he brought to the school system. Hiring Chancellor Michelle Rhee was a bold move demonstrating he meant business. Rhee wasted no time in pulling up decaying school system roots that were holding the system back. With Fenty's blessing, she has made tough choices making her and her boss unpopular in many quarters. Yet test scores and enrollment are up and waves of positive change are starting to roll through District schools.
Fenty's hiring of and support for Rhee illustrate something I admire about the current mayor. He's not afraid to take on entrenched powers more interested in maintaining their comfy status quo than performing up to a high standard. After years of Marion Barion-era corruption and lethargy, Washington D.C. was a city in dire need of shaking up. I've always said that if I ever ran for public office myself, I'd be one heck of a one-term servant. I would attack problems and sacred cows with gusto -- accomplishing tons but upsetting so many special interests that I'd be gone come re-election day.
Fenty has been willing to risk the same fate. A Washington Post editorial today laments that it's a shame District residents may cast out a mayor who has brought reform to schools, made the streets safer, made government agencies more responsive and given the District badly needed new recreation facilities. Fenty can rightly point to a long list of other accomplishments big and small. Taxi service rates are easier to understand. Affordable housing is more plentiful. New job training programs exist. More public library renovations are underway.
It's hard for me to imagine that anyone could build such a list of accomplishments without angering people who would rather watch good ideas go to die in the collaboration process than see results produced. It's equally difficult for me to imagine anyone achieving Fenty's success without laying off people whose jobs are for fiscal or performance reasons pulling the city down. Fenty has made the tough choices -- the kind I do not think the much-liked Gray is capable of making.
I may not want to invite Fenty to dinner but there is no question I would vote for him to keep running Washington D.C.