Call him a single-issue voter.
"Actually I'd vote for mayor of DC anyone who promised to do something about the mosquitoes," reported Richard Adams, correspondent for the Guardian. "Something like, a glass canopy over the whole city with air conditioning in summer."
Adams writes about the District's mosquitoes as a native would -- though any candidate for elected office knows that the issue is too hopeless to be any good for stumping on the campaign. But else wise, his cynical assessment of the District primary falls short. He does hail from a people for whom "tea party" means something vastly different than it does for Americans, after all.
Reporting about more substantive matters, Adams -- along with other foreign reporters who commented on last week's D.C. mayoral primary -- missed on both the nuance and the issues of the election. What they failed to grasp reveals not just some inherent difficulties of reporting on the business of another city (or country). The international coverage demonstrates how thoroughly incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty failed to frame the election.
A cynic will take away what he wants from a poll, and the Guardian's coverage represents the misanthrope's guide to D.C. politics. Reporting on the primaries in D.C., Delaware, New York and elsewhere on the East Coast, Adams called Barney Frank "history's greatest monster." He said that "only in DC would you need" a Board of Elections and Ethics. Adams made fun of U.S. nerves whenever hurricanes loom.
"The Democratic mayoral contest has taken the city by storm, if by 'storm' you mean one of those hurricanes that US cable TV goes on and on about but turns out to be nothing, like Hurricane Fiona the other week," wrote Adams.
So his grasp on the issues in D.C. (and how to frame them -- which is seriously not by way of hurricane metaphors) was tenuous at best. In earnestness, however, Adams said, "Grey took Fenty from the left, locked up a lot of union support and crushed Fenty in the African American vote."
One of Fenty's great failures in the election was his inability to portray Gray as a candidate running a relatively conservative campaign. On that point Adams would find a cosigner in Kojo Nnamdi, longtime local talk news host who took to the pages of the Washington Post to argue that the election of Vincent Gray was a regressive, not progressive, candidate for the city.
Other foreign outlets keyed in on different critical issues. The Economist, as is its wont, focused on unemployment as the issue that cost Mayor Fenty his job:
[T]he economy delivered the upset. In January Washington’s unemployment rate peaked at 12%, well above the national average. But joblessness has not been evenly distributed throughout the city. Its eastern wards, relatively poor and overwhelmingly black, have suffered most, with jobless rates of over 20%. In the whiter western portions of the city, unemployment has remained below the national average.
The unsigned editorial may have been authored by one of the Economist's D.C.–based writers. The savvy observation that Mayor Fenty's campaign was "clumsily run" would seem to suggest so. Clumsy is putting it mildly, though, as a close watcher knows: Team Fenty was content to rest on confidence in the same way that Mayor Fenty was deliberate about taking his own counsel.
Ryan Avent, an Economist blogger, delivered on the way that Gray was able to dovetail the politics of ressentiment with the jobs issue without necessarily offering a clearer jobs program than the incumbent did. Affirming Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy (whose column he describes as "sad"), Avent wrote:
It’s not the racial animus. Rather, it’s Milloy’s suggestion that city government should be used as a jobs program for local residents rather than as a means to deliver quality public services, or that photo ops really, actually are more important than improving test scores and falling crime rates.
This is perhaps what the Independent meant by "the vagaries of politics in the US capital city."
The Independent observes that politicians are either healers or warriors, squaring Gray as the former and Fenty as the latter. Yet politicians are also conduits, the oracles of the interests that bolster their ambitions -- and Mayor Fenty failed to make that argument.
Inadvertently, perhaps, the Independent -- and other elements of the foreign and, hell, domestic observers too, Milloy chief among them -- bought into Gray's electoral framing. In that framework, Gray beat Fenty not with the $1 million support of the teachers' union. In Gray's framework, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was a liability to Mayor Fenty, despite her demonstrated support among parents with children in the DCPS system. In Gray's framework -- and as many reporters have told it -- Gray emerged at the front of a grassroots wave, a candidate born up on the shoulders of thousands of D.C. voters who each felt personally slighted by Mayor Fenty.
Distant observers can hardly be blamed. All politics is local, after all. But closer in, it is more apparent that Mayor Fenty lost his job because he refused to try to keep it.