President-elect Barack Obama eats with Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty at Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009.
They may have broken bread -- or at least shared half smokes -- at Ben’s Chili Bowl, but that doesn’t mean Barack Obama will be publicly endorsing Mayor Adrian Fenty in the final days of the D.C. primary campaign.
In a puzzling move, Fenty told WTOP’s Mark Segraves that he had “personally reached out” to the White House for a late stamp of approval -- even though he has not locked down the desired presidential support. Fenty would like some sort of official backing that he could tout in the final five days of his re-election race, though he doesn’t expect that either the president or first lady would personally campaign for him.
It’s rare for presidents to get involved in primaries, especially on behalf of a trailing candidate. Though Fenty has a good relationship with the Obamas, and was an early backer of the president’s 2008 campaign, that’s more likely to pay off in a job offer after Fenty’s defeat than with a last-minute endorsement.
The White House refused to comment on Fenty’s request, and, as the Washington Post’s Tim Craig writes, “by admitting to WTOP he reached out to the president, Fenty runs the risk of appearing desperate.”
But Fenty is desperate. Two new polls brought bad news for the mayor Wednesday. A Clarus poll shows Vincent Gray leading Fenty 45 percent to 38 percent among likely voters, which is just within the survey’s margin of error. Gray has a huge lead among blacks, and Clarus said that if just 50 percent of D.C.’s black voters turn out, the race could still be “very tight.” However, if 60 percent or more of the city’s black voters come out, Gray could win in a landslide.
A poll by Washington City Paper and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show gives Gray an 11-point lead, 50 percent to 39 percent. With nine percent undecided, “even if Fenty won over every undecided voter in our survey, he’d still lose,” City Paper’s Mike Madden writes. The poll also found a majority saying D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was “very important” or “crucial” in their decision.
That was the bad news for Fenty from City Paper. The good news: In a bit of a shocker, the paper that delights in calling Fenty a “jerk” has endorsed him, calling him “the jerk D.C. needs.” City Paper says Fenty “has bungled the job of making poorer residents feel a part of the new D.C.,” but “public policy matters a lot more than even the most idiotic communications. And on this front, it’s hard not to love Fenty.” The endorsement says Gray’s “message is about style, about how a mayor must be more ‘respectful’” -- but that Fenty’s managerial toughness, personal ruthlessness and out-and-out misanthropy” are why he succeeds.
In its other endorsements, City Paper gives Vincent Orange a very reluctant nod for D.C. Council chairman, and wishes Gray was seeking re-election to that job. The paper backs Council incumbents Mary Cheh, Phil Mendelson, and Tommy Wells -- who tweeted that while he’ll put his Washington Post endorsement in his scrapbook, the City Paper nod “goes on my wall” -- but rejects two incumbents. (Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert also says Wells deserves another term.)
In Ward 1, City Paper backs Bryan Weaver, “a four-term advisory neighborhood commissioner and all-around good guy,” who “can match” Jim Graham’s “constituent-service hustle -- and brings some worthy experience battling slumlords and reaching out to at-risk kids -- and he comes without much of the incumbent’s baggage.” In Ward 5, City Paper is underwhelmed by Harry Thomas, Jr., but shudders at the thought of electing Delano Hunter, “the darling of the National Organization for Marriage.” Kenyan McDuffie gets the nod.
Shadow Rep. Mike Panetta also gets City Paper’s backing, days after Cheh and Wells both endorsed him. His challenger, Nate Bennett-Fleming, has been running hard, and just sent letters to every candidate for advisory neighborhood commissioner in the city. Bennett-Fleming has performed well in straw polls, and the race should go down to the wire.
In the other big news from the mayoral race, the Washington Post runs a 2,100-word story on Gray’s tenure as head of the Department of Human Services on its front page. During his debate against Councilmember Marion Barry on Fox 5, Fenty supporter Ron Moten hinted darkly about the upcoming piece, but after it appeared online, Gray strategist Mo Elleithee -- elated and a bit relieved -- called it a “great story” for his candidate.
The Post says interviews with “more than two dozen former and current activists, lawyers and government officials” from the Sharon Pratt days show a mixed record by Gray, but that he “delivered incremental progress” and “was a hands-on manager who cared for those whom the department sought to help.” The Post says Gray “did not transform an agency that by all accounts needed nothing less” and “did not make significant, lasting changes.” But the story is hardly the indictment of Gray that Fenty backers had been hoping for.
(Speaking of the Barry-Moten throw-down, Gray “said he didn’t know Barry was going to debate Moten until late Tuesday evening,” the Post reports, while City Paper says the Fenty campaign insists it does “not control Ron Moten.” If these guys can’t control their own surrogates, can they run a city?)
A reader of the Prince of Petworth blog, writing in to report seeing “a man stealing my neighbor’s election sign from their yard,” complains, “My freakin’ high school elections weren’t this petty and childish!” The reader has “had it with the election.”
It seems even Fenty agrees. On Sunday -- two days before his fate is decided -- the mayor will take a few hours off from the campaign trail to participate in a triathalon.