Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 08/04/10

By Tom Sherwood
|  Wednesday, Aug 4, 2010  |  Updated 12:01 AM EDT
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Endorsements Do Matter

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The Washington Post editorial page this week endorsed Mayor Adrian Fenty for a second term.

It said that despite some missteps and questions about some city contracts, Fenty has kept the city on a firm course toward improvements in city schools, crime, social services and economic development.

The editorial writers concluded, “Those who believe the District is headed in the right direction should maintain that momentum with a vote for Adrian Fenty.”

There were predictable, sneering reactions that The Post’s editorial page editors had backed Fenty in part because of their too-chummy relationship with and investment in Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Gary Imhoff of DCWatch, a popular but caustic observer of city politics, dismissed The Post editorial, saying, “The Adrian Fenty campaign published its latest (but far from its last) press release today in the Washington Post … .”

Of course, Fenty told NBC4 on Monday that he was proud to have The Post’s endorsement. He called it an “independent voice” unlike those of interest groups that lobby candidates for endorsements in exchange for support on this issue or that.

Fenty challenger Council Chairman Vincent Gray, appearing at the reopening of the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library at 7th and R streets NW, hid any disappointment at not getting The Post’s backing.

Several months ago, the editorial page had urged Gray to get into the race so the city would have a full discussion of the issues. But a series of follow-up editorials examining those issues always wound up backing Fenty, not Gray.

“Certainly wasn’t a surprise,” Gray told NBC4 in reaction to the Sunday editorial. He said The Post had not prompted his entry into the race. And in classic campaign response, he said the only poll that really matters is that of Election Day.

That may be true (Fenty agrees), but Gray’s campaign is keeping close track of endorsements. He may not have gotten The Post’s backing, but the Gray team said it has received 18 out of the 20 endorsements announced so far.

Here’s the list provided by the Gray campaign: “AFSCME, AFGE, AFL-CIO Washington Labor Council, Carpenter's Union, DC Chamber of Commerce, FOP, FOP-DOC, FOP District of Columbia Lodge #1, Firefighters Local 36, Gertrude Stein Club, Latino Caucus, National Association of Government Employees, National Association of Social Workers, Nurses Union, Teamsters Local Union 639, Teamsters Local 689, TENAC (DC Tenant’s Advocacy Coalition), Washington DC Realtors.

“Straw poll wins for Gray: Ward 3, Ward 8, Citywide, Ward 7, and Ward 6.”

That’s an impressive list. Still, almost half are from labor groups that are furious with Fenty, a mayor who has fired workers, battled unions over job performance and bluntly ignored labor leaders.

So do all these endorsements matter? Political professionals say endorsements can bring any candidate money, campaign workers and media attention.

The Post, despite the howls of those who are spurned, also plays a role for many citizens who don’t follow politics closely. This group of voters cares more what a candidate does than whether he’s nice -- a big issue with organizations that say Fenty routinely and regularly snubs them.

• A nicer Fenty?

Fenty watchers have observed the mayor's often-haughty dismissal of media questions, people and organizations. He seems to feel that as mayor he doesn’t have to meet with or consult people with whom he disagrees. He dismisses business organizations and labor unions, saying they have narrow interests and just want to get this or that person hired.

But the Notebook seems to be seeing a friendlier Fenty on the campaign trail. That means his advisers are getting to him about how he comes across in public. The mayor at recent campaign stops has been more like the smiling candidate who ran four years ago.

The fear for many, though, is that should he win re-election, Fenty will revert to his dismissive ways. The opposite is said of Gray. Even some of his strongest supporters say Gray has a friendly personality and approach that people like, but they worry he gets bogged down in process rather than focusing on results. As mayor, he wouldn't have time to mull things over for days or weeks before commenting. And worse, some say, he still needs to show that he's more than just the anti-Fenty candidate.

• Barry wins one.

The Office of Campaign Finance says Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry did not violate the law when he gave a city contract to a woman with whom he was having, or had had, a personal relationship. But the office -- which is charged with regulating the conduct of D.C. official -- said Barry violated personnel rules by not disclosing his relationship to the D.C. Council.

The council earlier this year censured Barry, saying he violated the rules. The latest ruling won’t affect that. But it’s another indication that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not file any criminal charges against Barry.

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