Fenty Opens Up—A Little
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is a sound-bite kinda guy, always happy to rip off 10 seconds of commentary of the issue of the day.
This afternoon, he went somewhat deeper—somewhat—during a 45-minute interview at Nathans restaurant in Georgetown with owner Carol Joynt. The chat was part of Joynt's "Q&A Cafe" series and took place in front of about 75 Georgetown folks (read: mostly graying white people) eating lunch.
Joynt asked some very good, hard-hitting questions, and for the most part, Fenty answered them fully and candidly. You'll be able to watch the whole thing on Channel 16 starting Friday, but here's some highlights (emphasis LL's):
On Job Cuts in FY2010 Budget: "There will be actually be a lot of personnel decisions....Cuts isn't the right way say to say it, because I believe, like a lot of people, that the government probably grew to be too big, so I think we're bring forced to make some decisions we probably should have made in the first place. But, yes, whatever you want to call them—reducing FTEs...we're making necessary management decisions." Joynt followed up: "Will the size of the city government staff be smaller after you do your new budget?" Said Fenty, "Very likely." He declined to name any particular targeted agencies, though he did pledge not to cut sworn police officers or firefighters.
On His Relationship With Barack Obama: "I think it's well. I mean, he has not only been a personal supporter of what we've been trying to get done here in the District of Columbia but I think really as you saw yesterday in his education announcement, philosophically I really do feel like he governs the way people in this city expect out of us."
On Congress and Guns: "What we have to decide in the District of Columbia is, do we take the momentum of the voting rights lobbying and do we say we're going to have that and not let anything get in our way and then work hard to take off any non-germane amendments? I think that over the past decade there have been a lot less negative things put on our budget...it keeps going down, except for guns. Guns, from what I've seen, is the one issue where actually there's more interference...which is an instructive thing to note if it's true because it just means that no matter what happens with this voting rights bill, there's going to be interference by the gun lobby on some other bill that we have going through Congress, not just this year but next year."
On Vouchers: "I would say that at the end of the day, the kids in the system will probably be able to remain through the end....I don't think there's any support to grow the program, but I think that both sides of the aisle, no matter what the position, you can't take a kid out of the learning environment that they're in."
On Obama's Education Speech: "Obama, let me just say, deserves amazing credit for what he announced yesterday. That's amazing for a national Democrat. I can go out and say those things but local folks tend to focus on what's in front, where in the national politics to say that you want to have teachers who may get merit pay, that would have been unheard of."
On the Prospects of Michelle Rhee Leaving DCPS: "One, I think the chancellor has said this before...she really does have a multiyear plan for the District of Columbia. And I think she would see it as her not accomplishing her own personal goals if she weren't able to see them through. No. 2, it's hard to imagine a situation where one person at a local level could have made more of a national difference. She and maybe one or two others are the poster child for what should be happening in urban school systems. And I think her collective bargaining proposal is the premier proposal in the country right now. And so she's working with the secretary of education, in tandem, who of course is advising the president....I've always believed if someone moves up that's the greatest compliment there is. If it ever happened, I would just support it and embrace it....She's kind of following the Joel Klein model of getting things done over two or three terms."
On the Teachers Contract: "Over decades there have been these collective bargaining agreements that...are so strong that you have to have an alternative. It's not like the rest of the government...where there's not this ingrained tenure. As the chancellor says, there's really no connection or correlation between tenure and student performance. So we've gotta be able to offer something. We're not gonna get people to opt out of a tenure system without some type of rewards or encouragement....I'm not even sure the majority of teachers support [tenure]; I know the the teachers union does, but I don't think the majority of teachers support it." Joynt asked Fenty if he thought the Washington Teachers' Union would exist in five years. "I would think so," he said after a second's hesitation. "But I think that we in five years would have a collective bargaining proposal that has probably done more for pay and resources and support for teachers than a lot of collective bargaining agreements have done before that."
On Tony Williams' Legacy: When we took over the government, the Williams administration had done a very good job introducing accountability, professionalism, and sound management. and what's obvious to everyone is that over eight years you can only push that performance accountability down so low. Our job was to take over, push it down even further, even closer to the front line, so that each and every person you run into in D.C. government mirrors the kind of customer service you expect at a small, successful neighborhood restaurant." That line got laughs, especially after Joynt added, "Can you do something about my property taxes?"
On Small Business Vs. Big Box: "Neither extreme is going to be beneficial to the city...But take for example the old convention center site. It's still going forward, but obviously the developer is having a tougher financing issue. What makes it easier to finance that project is big anchor tenants. The more big anchor tenants you sign...the faster we get that project under way; the faster we get that project under way, the better it is for anyone."
On the Relationship With Lerners: "I think it's going excellent... Having been part of the private world and public world, lots of deals, the amount of money that was in quote-unquote in dispute was not significant, not even as a percentage." Roses to Joynt for this followup: "And you're comfortable with them making a rather large contribution to your campaign?" "Absolutely...Sincerely I think...that's what they have the term limits so it doesn't exceed a certain amount and so you kind of artificially have that separation. Because there's lots of people who have done lots of things for the city who not only campaign, contribute to me and other leaders in the city...The citizens are the judge. As we've seen with the contested election I was in, the fact that the city council has turned over, the citizens in the District of Columbia are going to pay attention to the issues and to the candidates, and I won't forget that."
On Bringing the Redskins Back to D.C.: "We're gonna push to get the Redskins back. And if we have to convince them, we'll convince them. As they say in the move, we'll make 'em an offer they can't refuse....It's not a one-year project to get them back, so I mean, whatever economy were in right now, we won't be in that economy when dollars are spent.
On Marion Barry's Legacy: "He's a tough guy. He's gone through a lot....I think it's multifaceted." That last line got big laughs, though it seemed Fenty didn't expect it to. "If Barry was here," he said, "I think he could recite his strengths and his weaknesses as much as anybody."
On His Dubai Trip: "We had a fantastic time...I mean, mayors take heat....To be perfectly candid with you, I think you expect on every given day on every given issue that people will challenge you. Sometimes they've challenged us more on some issues, sometimes they've challenged us less on issues." Joynt asked him his next destination: "It wouldn't be a secret if I told you that. Probably someplace domestic."
On His Campaign Theme: "What I think is happening in politics in this country is that the people of cities and states and now of the country are hiring people who are pledging to run the cities as efficiently as any well-run private sector organization....Hiring those great people, having those performance measures, trying to be transparent if something bad happens, or coming up with new outside the box ideas to save money and get tihngs done faster—that's how we've tried to run the government; I think it's similar to how people want to see governments run these days. Somewhere in there is kind of our M.O. or slogan."
On Obama Possibly Helping With His Re-Election: "That's actually a very good question. I hadn't thought about that...But let me say I believe that great leaders come around once in a lifetime. I believe that Barack Obama is that great leader who comes around once in a lifetime, so I haven't and I hope I never spend a lot of time thinking of what he can do for me. What he can do for D.C., yes, but I really think about how I can support [him]—and that's what I say every time I see him—what can the city do to help you make this great country greater?"
Photo by Ellen Schreiber, courtesy of Carol Joynt