Mayor Adrian Fenty got schooled by the crowd at Ward 5’s Dunbar High School Monday night, where his commencement address was met with boos.
It wasn’t Fenty’s speech -- a typical politician’s graduation speech, peppered with platitudes like “never accept excuses from anyone for why a challenge can't be met” -- that bothered some of the graduates and their families. Rather, it was their belief that Fenty bumped Council Chair Vincent Gray -- Fenty’s chief rival and a Dunbar graduate -- from the speaking slot.
Gray ended up playing opening act to Fenty, giving introductory remarks and leaving the event before students received their diplomas. Though his communications director Doxie McCoy said this was “because of other commitments on his schedule,” the Washington Post’s D.C. Wire says Gray left “complaining that he had been replaced by Fenty” as commencement speaker.
Fenty claimed ignorance, telling the press, “I didn't know that this was an issue until you guys asked me.” He said the boos did not bother him, repeating his standard line about the campaign season being the time to “remind people of what you promised you would do four years ago” and to highlight achievements.
As for the speech kerfuffle, it looks like it was an honest mix-up. D.C. public schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said Fenty was invited to give the big speech by Friends of Bedford, which operates Dunbar. Gray spokeswoman McCoy said a panel of students and teachers selected the Dunbar alumnus to do the honors. D.C. schools officials dispute this, saying there was no such panel, but there was a group of faculty given the task of finding a speaker. When they did not have one by April, Friends of Bedford invited Fenty.
As ex-Loose Lips Mike DeBonis, now of the Post, writes on his blog, “In the annals of non-news, an incumbent politician getting booed by a large crowd is right up there with dog bites man.”
Still, what should have been a run-of-the-mill speech turned into yet another headache for Fenty as he seeks a second term.