On Wednesday, incumbent Adrian Fenty and challenger Vincent Gray met in what seemed like the eight millionth debate of the race for D.C. mayor. It’s hard to believe that not long ago, Fenty was taking flak for skipping debates.
Perhaps he had the right idea.
This latest encounter took place on one of the city’s most respectful and respectable forums -- WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show. But despite Nnamdi’s best efforts, little new ground was explored, and the debate was basically a wash.
Fenty continued his strong backing of schools chief Michelle Rhee, and said "politicians" on the Council should stay out of her way and let Rhee do her job. Gray repeated the measured stance on school firings that he rolled out recently, saying bad teachers need to be fired, but that he wasn’t sure the evaluations Rhee used in the most recent round of dismissals worked well.
The candidates also traded jabs over the dysfunctional Summer Youth Employment Program, with Gray saying that under Fenty it was mismanaged and over budget, while Fenty chided Gray and the Council for refusing to provide for an extra week for the program.
Neither candidate had a great performance. Fenty lamely defended his pocket veto of a bill prohibiting paying people to vote by saying it was a conflict of interest for Council member seeking reelection to pass it. He also side-stepped a question on his latest albatross, the $400,000 no-bid contract for Peaceaholics, by switching the subject to Gray’s leadership of the Department of Human Services under Mayor Sharon Pratt.
Fenty deserves some sympathy on that issue. Gray led two recent polls in the race, and there’s a very good chance he will be the District’s next mayor. Fenty is right to suggest that Gray’s past record is fair game. But the reality is that as the incumbent, this contest is all about Fenty, and his attacks on Gray’s DHS record will continue to get no traction.
As for Gray, he could not offer a specific example of executive leadership during his long career, leading Nnamdi and NBC4’s Tom Sherwood to suggest Gray seeks consensus too frequently at the cost of decisiveness. Gray also tested the bonds of credulity by complaining that the Council gets just 56 days to deal with the mayor’s budget request -- which, as Fenty pointed out, is as long as the Council has always had for the task.
Clips of a few highlights are below.
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