Last night, the ward where Mayor Adrian Fenty began his career decided it is time to end it.
Rival Vincent Gray beat Fenty in a high-stakes Ward 4 straw poll by a wide margin, with an unofficial tally showing Gray with 581 votes to Fenty’s 401. While Gray did not hit the 60 percent threshold required to win a formal endorsement, that’s beside the point -- it was a crippling blow to the flailing Fenty campaign.
A huge crowd gathered outside the venue in the hours before the event began, and Ward 4 Democrats President Deborah Royster repeatedly admonished the energized throng during the candidate forum before the vote.
During the debate, Gray accused Fenty of putting in 9-to-5 work days, saying, “I don’t see you around at midnight,” and said at one point, “You’re the most credit-taking mayor I’ve ever seen in my life!” Gray challenged Fenty to put his notes away and debate without them, but the mayor ignored him.
Fenty hit Gray over his refusal to say what he would do with schools chief Michelle Rhee. Fenty said of Leo Alexander, who has vowed to fire Rhee, that while he doesn’t agree, “at least he takes a stand.” Gray feebly replied that Rhee “has decided she won’t be working in a Gray administration. I haven’t.”
But the winner of the debate was Gray. Fenty was booed when he trotted out his familiar criticism of Gray’s tenure as head of the Department of Human Services in the early 1990s. WTOP’s Mark Plotkin asked Fenty what had become of the upbeat candidate of four years ago, and suggested he’d had a “personality transplant.” And minor candidate Sulaimon Brown even used his closing remarks to tell the crowd to back Gray over Fenty.
With 40 days to go, Fenty needs to do something drastic to turn this race around. While a straw poll is hardly scientific, this is a stunning repudiation in a ward that elected Fenty twice and gave him nearly 70 percent of the vote in the 2006 mayoral primary.
An interesting subplot of the evening was the result of the straw poll vote for At-Large Council member. While incumbent Phil Mendelson won with 389 votes, D.C. shadow senator Michael D. Brown received a stunning 330 votes, with Clark Ray at 199. While Brown has been a vocal advocate for D.C. voting rights, his Council campaign has been nearly invisible compared to Ray’s aggressive effort, and it seems many voters may have confused Brown with Council Member Michael A. Brown.
Another Brown – Council Chair candidate Kwame – won 524 votes in his race, with Vincent Orange receiving 385.