Loose Lips

Like Fenty, but Grayer

Vince Gray: The Bizarro Adrian Fenty?

When Vince Gray beat Adrian Fenty in last year’s primary, the moral of the story seemed obvious: Politics requires politicking.

In four years, Fenty’s administration had won praise from national policy experts—and resounding boos from residents. In Fenty’s world, locals were expected to go along with innovative experiments in governing, even when no one bothered talking to them about why the Wilson Building was doing what it was doing. Fenty may have worn three different BlackBerries, but his inability to communicate his vision for the District doomed him: On Election Day, voters threw him out even as they told pollsters they thought the city was doing pretty well. In the privacy of the voting booth, it turned out, a bunch of bike lanes doesn’t get you very far.

A year after Gray won the general election, though, he doesn’t seem to have learned the lessons of his race against Fenty. Just like the guy he beat, Gray keeps hurting his own cause by messing up the most basic job requirement of any mayor: remembering public relations. Sure, the two went wrong in different ways. Fenty alienated Gray’s base by appearing to pander to wealthier, whiter, younger newcomers. Thus far, Gray’s missteps have elicited told-you-so’s from former Fentyites, not to mention a few big defections from his own long-time supporters. But Gray, who only ran against Fenty because he saw how vulnerable he was, remains in real danger of turning into a bizarro version of his vanquished opponent.

After all, the hiring scandals that have eaten up so much of Gray’s time didn’t have to be so damaging. But like Fenty, Gray seemed to go out of his way to make public relations problems worse each time he spoke about the story. He apparently couldn’t decide what he thought about all the children of senior campaign aides who wound up on the city payroll—much less about Sulaimon Brown. “We believe he has the requisite skills to do the job,” Gray told reporters asking how the erratic former fringe candidate managed to get a position in the Department of Health Care Finance. The next day, that wasn’t the mayor’s line anymore. “Whatever happened has happened within the Department of Health Care Finance, I really don’t know the details...There’s over 33,000 people who work in the government,” he said.

Last month, when a House committee report found no direct evidence that Gray knew whether his campaign staffers paid Brown to keep running against Fenty last year, the mayor bungled the messaging once again. “It makes us feel vindicated,” he told Fox 5. Which might not be the phrase a seasoned image-maker would choose to describe a report that detailed how Gray’s administration hired—as a $100,000-a-year accountant—a guy who didn’t know how to use Microsoft Excel, and that portrayed Gray as having to ask underlings, “What the fuck happened?” after Brown was given the boot. Even Gray’s attempts to fix his political image have gone wrong. His new communications guru, Andi Pringle, had to resign in September because she’d voted in the District while living in Maryland.

Fenty, likewise, had a litany of self-inflicted wounds. Whether he was picking pointless fights with the D.C. Council over free baseball tickets, taking a secret family trip to Dubai (paid for with $25,000 from the United Arab Emirates government), or giving away firetrucks to the Dominican Republic, the guy Gray beat kept making decisions that no politician with any instinct toward self-preservation would make. Constantly blowing off neighborhood activists, party officials, and other players who make up municipal politics, the former mayor seemed oblivious to the notion that voters would judge him on anything other than the statistics and data he made city government collect and measure itself against.

Which is why it’s such a mystery that Gray can’t seem to get himself out of the same trap. When it comes to policy, there aren’t many clues there was even an election last year. Gray let Michelle Rhee go, but he kept her deputy, Kaya Henderson, in charge of schools. Bike lanes and streetcar tracks are still being laid out all over the city. The guy who rebuilt school facilities for Fenty, Allen Lew, is now Gray’s city administrator. If last year’s polls are to be believed, this continuity is more or less what the public wants.

Gray was supposed to change the optics. The District’s government would stop giving off the sense that the people in charge didn’t care what voters thought. A year after the general election that put him in office, though, Gray isn’t doing much better at managing his image than Fenty did. Maybe it’s time for him to remember how he got to be mayor in the first place.

Illustration by Brooke Hatfield/photos by Darrow Montgomery

  • Robin

    Boo Hoo. Fenty didn't ask everyone what they thought. He made changes to help a really messed up city. I guess he was suppose to do like Gray. Nothing would have gotten done. He put his own neck on the line to make change. Gray would never do that. Hope everyone is happy.

  • Brahmin

    Perceptive.

  • old man

    not a bad essay. short, concise overview of the dynamics that consumed the past and current mayor but perhaps it should suggest to you that governing is a lot more difficult than people realize, I'm not sure the general public ever fully appreciates the three legs of politics, fundraising, governing, and public engagement. very few measure all three correctly in the recipe for good government.

    p.s. the clip art was a fantastic tie in, you should credit the creator.

  • PLEASE HELPUS

    FENT DIDN'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT NO ONE BUT HISSELF AND OH YEAH HIS FRAT BROTHERS WHO WERE OVER-CHARGING THE CITY LEFT AND RIGHT...FENTY FIRED PEOPLE FOR NO REASON...OH YEAH ONE BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T GET HIM HIS COFFEE! GRAY HAD SOME OF THE WRONG PEOPLE IN THE WRONG POSITIONS...THE CITY IS NO WHERE NEAR RECOVERED FROM THE DAMAGE FENTY DID. AT LEAST RESIDENTS ARE TREATED AS HUMANS.

  • noodlez

    YO MAD MIKE WHERE DID YOU FIND THIS? AND ARE THERE ANYMORE?

    FINALLY AN OBJECTIVE LOOSE LIPS COLUMN!

    AHHH. LET ME PERUSE THIS SOLID PIECE OF WRITING SLOWLY AND BASK IN ALL ITS WASHINGTON DC JOURNALISTIC QUALITY AS IT MAY NOT COME THIS WAY AGAIN!

  • seDCdude

    this piece here is utter bullshit!!

    Yeah that's rich of you, paint Mayor Gray with the same brushes and paint, just change the canvas!!

    GTFOH.....Fenty was the absolute worse and WE all know it!

  • get it straight

    Gray isn't the bees knees, but come on, Fenty was a moron. His failures weren't just PR. For starters, he oversaw the biggest cheating scandal in DCPS history. That is nothing to long for. I know that the shitty ass Washington Post and the City Paper have forgotten all about it, but that is pretty damned important. Instead of writing stupid shit like this and the hardly informative or shocking piece on Jack Evans, please do some real investigation into what happened.

    Haven't heard anyone mention Rhee's name in a while, have we?

  • W Jordan

    Dumb article.

  • WARD4NDC

    Former Adrian Malik Fenty was an asshole, but I now regret voting for current Mayor Vincent Gray. Former King Fenty only cared about himself and those in his inner circle regardless of race. However, he was responsive to me from his personal email account. I haven't gotten one response from Vincent Gray. I've learned over the years, politicians aren't shit, corrupted, and liars.

  • Drez

    What a bunch of whiners.

  • Typical DC BS

    When noodlez gives LL faint praise, it's a thought provoking column!

  • Southeast Ken

    I agree, Adrian Fenty was the worst. Typical comment coming from a white boy like Drez.

  • John

    Liked the article, Gray is a bungler who can't get it right. He is a do nothing mayor who is not listening to the humans or anything reasonable. Miss the Fenty administration who actually cared about the city, got schools built, libraries built, fired bad teachers and shook up all the agencies. Now we have a man who likes to go to openings and cut ribbons and raise taxes. The city is not the winner with this guy.

  • Drez

    Lol @ SE Ken.
    It's a beautiful fall day. Trees still have some color. Got a job, the house is warm and dry. Family is coming over next week.
    What are you thankful for?

  • Jim Ed

    BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANN TAYLOR?!?!?

  • seDCdude

    John u aint from here, OBVIOuSLY and take this eggplant Drez wit'cha when you get dropped off at Dulles!

    Drez, you typed the same shit the past 3 thanxgivNs, step yo game up buddy!

  • Ronnie

    What John Said!
    "Liked the article, Gray is a bungler who can't get it right. He is a do nothing mayor who is not listening to the humans or anything reasonable. Miss the Fenty administration who actually cared about the city, got schools built, libraries built, fired bad teachers and shook up all the agencies. Now we have a man who likes to go to openings and cut ribbons and raise taxes. The city is not the winner with this guy."

    Fenty gave a sh*t! No one did anything productive about the schools before he came along. History will repeatedly point out that while Fenty wasn't the best politician, he was one of the best mayors DC has had. Gray pulled a snow job on the voters.

  • NE John

    John, above, agree

  • NE John

    Brooke Hatfield, nice work

  • Honest Abe

    Adrian Fenty is a evil lying S.O.B.! Mayor Gray is embarrassing himself by all of the mistakes, but hopefully he will get it right. Fenty and his cronies Sinclair Skinner, Omar Karim and others are laughing all the way to the bank. They are all rich from the tax dollars they took from us. Comment # 13 sounds like ole John Falicicchio. I see you John you coward! Scared to speak up against that punk ass Fenty. Grow some balls.

  • Terry Miller

    This article has nothing new in it. To me, it is part of the presses attempt to keep talking about the Brown issue, to keep it in front of everyone's mindd all the time.

  • Wrack

    Wow, good comments, people.

    Not.

  • http://letschange.org Respected Citizens

    Well written Mike Madden, they both are two of a kind. And finally, the people of DC can see and understand how best to assess a Candidate for office.

    Because, knowing a person of your ethnic, or an individual being effective as the Chairman in City Council, does not equate to having the required SKILLs and ABILITIES to be the Chief Executor of the District of Columbia, whereby one allows himself to governed by Appleseed, DC Board of Chambers and the Control Board when representing the disenfranchise overall needs of our city.

  • StrangeFruit

    Oh please, Gray knows what time it is and it ain't kissin-up to Fenty's follies! Gray is wise enough to know who put him in office and he'll have the same fate if he does a 180 on his base.

    Nice try City Paper, but you guys and all of Fenty's azz wipes continue to move to the back of the bus!!!!!!

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    Gray has manure for brains.

  • Brahmin

    Service Coordinators.

    The reason why Williams adminsitration deemed successful and thier Core Team meeting. Poople don't think that means much but it was were Mayor Williams best and finest city management happened.

    A lot of reasons people disliked Fenty is when they needed government most it failed them simple as that.

    And Fenty appeared aloof/indifferent to fixing it, So people highlighted his failures much more than Williams or even Barry.

    Williams had high level professionals who have the power to seek out resident input and intervene of the behalf of constituents. Also because they were constantly reviewing data they looked for systematic variance and problems to be addressed. When Fenty ended the program thinking he didn't it, he removed the brains of the operations.

    Fenty rid himself of these people thinking they were eggheads who met too much. The call center would give him the mayor the information directly. And that did not work so well.

    In the past Merrit Druckers, Tara Jones, and Neil Richardson's kept that level of city service high because they managed the systems--make the time between the complaint coming to being address smaller and smaller then down to anticipating needs.

    We are starting to see service delivery erode and hence the sense the city is not run well.

  • Truth hurts

    Like Fenty - But Grayer. That lede may sound clever, but it's not supported by the article, nor by the events that occurred during two very different administrations. The only similarity between Fenty and Gray is that both lost the support of many people who voted them into office -- for entirely different reasons.

  • Hallem Williams

    Mayor Gray's ethics are sound and his commitment to the citizens should not be questions. The problem stems from too many masters, too little taxable real estate (tax base) and his will to fix it all now.

    Give him a break. His heart and mind are straight and he has learned from the mistakes of others.

    Washington, DC is moving in a positive way, in spite of the economic and political realities that undergird its policies and practices.It is a great place to live, work, and raise a family,

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