Wanted: A Fenty De-Jerkification Program
It's official: Adrian Fenty is going to be nicer in his second term.
For most of the past four years, the mayor's attitude towards the pols, reporters, and community leaders who've been put off by his personal style has been simple: I'm here to get things done, not to play nice. Where other chief executives grin and bear the minor indignities of office, Fenty has made a virtue out of denying free baseball tickets, ribbon-cutting invitations, or back-room backslapping.
But now that the mayor's personality has become a focus of the campaign—a subject analyzed in Loose Lips columnist's Alan Suderman's well-nuanced City Paper cover story—Fenty is at last acknowledging that his style hasn't always represented pure good-government enlightenment. In a new TV spot, the mayor admits he's made mistakes. "Going forward, I’ll learn from them, and be more inclusive,” he says.
For a statistics-obsessed executive like Fenty, though, vague promises of political chumminess shouldn't suffice. If Fenty really meant it, he'd accompany the pledge of good fellowship with the sort of specifics that can be illustrated on an org chart, measured with empirical evidence, and tracked via CapStat.
My suggestion: Fenty should promise that in a second term, he'll appoint a Deputy Mayor for Butt-Kissing.
The DMBK's job would be simple: He or she would be in charge of buttering up councilmembers, activists, and anyone else whose ill feelings could slow the mayoral agenda. Tickets to see the Nats? A birthday card for a councilmember's chief of staff? A proclamation likening some local party official to Abraham Lincoln? See the DMBK. With the task centralized, Fenty would no longer have to rely on his own limited supply of chumminess to grease the wheels of politics.
But this isn't to say that the DMBK would be some ignoble political hack. Far from it. Fenty's disdain for political log-rolling would require that obsequies be turned into a science. The office would have a budget, and the DMBK would formally track the return on investment for each act of political abasement.
So if a pair of baseball tickets for a councilmember to pass on to a local activist cost $100, the transfer would have to be justified by at least $100 in benefit to the city—say, by helping make sure the legislator supports Fenty's summer youth employment budget. For interactions that merely require the mayor's time, it could be calculated on a per-minute rate. The goal of keeping an obscure ANC commissioner happy might rate 20-minute stop-by at the commissioner's mother's wake. But an ANC chair's dead mother might rate an hourlong visit. (Should tragedy befall even the most distant relative of the Washington Post's editorial page editor, the DMBK could ensure that Fenty's entire schedule was scrubbed to enable full mayoral commiseration.)
Obviously, the business of establishing political warmth is a bit more complicated than a single-transaction quid pro quo. Fenty's troubles won't be repaired with one-time gestures. The DMBK would need to chart ROI over time, plotting acts of friendliness and reciprocal gestures of political non-hostility on a convuluted, ever-changing chart.
DMBK administration would be a process-focused, complicated task, one for a proven hard worker, albeit one who's willing to cultivate members of the local political firmament who've proven less successful at their tasks. If Fenty wins, Vincent Gray might be available.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery