Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 09/08/10

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty spoke clearly and plaintively to voters as he wrapped up an hour-long debate with challenger Vincent Gray at the Newseum last week.

    "If you don’t find it in your hearts to forgive me and give me a second chance,” Fenty said in a steady voice, “I will have no one to blame but myself.”

    No truer words ever have been spoken in a political campaign.

    At the forum sponsored by The Washington Post, NBC4 and WAMU 88.5, Gray turned aside Fenty’s new-found humility, calling it less “a change of heart than a change of strategy.”

    The Gray campaign now finds itself mostly fighting the dangers of overconfidence among its supporters. The race isn’t over until it’s over.

    One Fenty adviser said the 39-year-old mayor until recently had firmly believed that getting results -- new schools, libraries and recreation centers, as well as lower crime and more efficient city services -- would be the ticket to re-election.

    Yet Fenty apparently ignored repeated private warnings that his aloof and dismissive behavior had gone viral with voters. He refused or couldn’t find a way to even pretend to “make nice” with community leaders and interest groups he had shunned for more than three years.

    Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was out campaigning for Fenty during the Labor Day weekend. It’s yet another sign that she’ll be gone if Gray wins, whether because he fires her or she quits.

    Rhee may be motivating many people to vote for Fenty, but The Post poll shows she also inspires others to vote for Gray.

    Should Gray win on Tuesday, the most watched dynamic will be how he goes about recalibrating school reform.

    • The campaign for chairman.

    Our mailboxes have been aflutter with glossy placards from the race to lead the 13-member council. The chairman is the lead player in how the council shapes the city’s $10 billion budget.

    At-large Council member Kwame Brown was out of the gate as soon as it was clear Gray was giving up the chairmanship to challenge Fenty.

    And Brown had smooth sailing as other serious candidates, including Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, decided to sit out the race.

    The only rough patch began when NBC4 reported that Brown’s personal finances are in disarray, with three credit card companies having active Superior Court cases against him for a total of more than $50,000 in overdue charges and fees.

    Since then, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and The City Paper’s Loose Lips have reported significant other financial problems, including an expensive boat dubbed “Bulletproof” that Brown is trying to unload. To top it all off, the Office of Campaign Finance last week sent two formal inquiries to Brown about tens of thousands of dollars in debts and expenditures dating back to his jumbled 2004 and 2008 at-large campaign reports.

    On the WAMU 88.5 Politics Hour, Brown acknowledged the financial shortcomings. Speaking to host Kojo Nnamdi and the Notebook, Brown summarized his situation: “Was it sloppy accounting work on my campaign filing? You take responsibility for that. The credit cards, I take responsibility for that. But in terms of what I have done professionally, I’ve always had the utmost character and I’ve never been accused of anything as it relates to moving the city forward.”

    Brown’s chief opponent is former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who says his political and personal finances are all in order. Orange says the city can’t afford to have a financially strapped council chairman who must help decide the city’s crushing budget issues and represent the District on Wall Street.

    “It’s not just personal finance,” Orange said on the radio show. “It’s personal finance and now campaign finances. Is this the person you want to send to Wall Street to represent us? He didn’t take responsibility; the courts took responsibility.”

    Orange, trailing in endorsements and trailing by 22 points in a recent Washington Post poll, insisted voters shouldn’t separate Brown’s personal troubles from his public responsibilities.

    “It means that Kwame Brown is not responsible, that he lacks judgment,” Orange said. “He should have cleaned this up before he came forward [to run for chairman].”

    • A nice “Segway.”

    We'll end this week’s column on a nonpolitical note. Your Notebook took his first sustained Segway ride on Saturday. It was part of a weekend wedding celebration for Chris Brown and Doug Rogers.

    It was the first same-sex wedding we’ve attended as a guest rather than a political reporter. Family and friends celebrated the wedding ceremony Sunday at the University Club on 16th Street.

    On Saturday, about a dozen wedding guests and participants took a Segway tour in downtown Washington. Tour guides Aron and Austin zipped us through city streets, onto the National Mall, around the Lincoln Memorial and back toward the Washington Monument.

    More than a few of the participants were uneasy about standing on a two-wheeled thingamajig. “I’m such a klutz,” said guest Kirk Monroe. But within minutes, he was zooming down the sidewalk, doing 360-degree turns and, like the rest of us, seeing Washington from a different perspective.

    Congratulations to Doug and Chris, who now as legal spouses have a whole different perspective on their lives together.