Adrian Fenty Good Mayor, Bad Candidate

Affluent whites are astounded that Adrian Fenty appears about to lose his bid for re-election as DC's mayor. But the majority black population is less than thrilled with his tenure.

Dave Weigel explains why he supports DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, who will almost certainly lose the Democratic primary today:

For mayor, I wrote in Adrian Fenty. City Paper’s endorsement gets at most of the reasons why Fenty’s worth supporting, but I’d been planning to vote for him all year, even after some annoyance at how the city handed clean-up in the Snowpocalypse. That annoyance actually led to an insight. I live on a one-way street in a residential neighborhood; most traffic only comes through to park or to avoid a busier intersection. The city cleaned up busier streets. That made a lot of sense. Most of Fenty’s policies make that kind of sense, improving life for most people in the city while severely pissing off a smaller number of people.

That’s why Fenty’s lack of endorsements made me more inclined to vote for him. Every metric of city life is better than it used to be — crime is down, test scores are up, and it’s easier to use public transportation to get to constantly-improving neighborhoods. The local unions — the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, Teamsters — have all endorsed Fenty’s opponent, Vincent Gray. This is because he does what they like, and Fenty doesn’t. I like a mayor that doesn’t. I don’t want to canonize him here, and everyone (including him!) admits that his personal abrasiveness has played a role in turning the special interests away from him, but I don’t really care. If you’re a mayor and the unions are happy with you, you’re probably doing a terrible job.

Indeed.   I don’t live in the District but almost everyone I know who does thinks Fenty has been an outstanding mayor. Indeed, most think he’s the best mayor DC has ever had.

But this may be a Pauline Kael Situation. The people I know are, after all, fairly affluent white folks who live in DC’s better neighborhoods and work in the information sector. But I gather that Fenty is not well liked among his fellow African Americans. Reihan Salam notes this passage in  Sarah Larimer‘s TBD report:

What about Howard’s Department of Political Science? Would it consider taking on the mayor as a lecturer? Department chairman Daryl Harris said he hadn’t given the idea much thought, but it wouldn’t go over well with some students and members of the faculty. Harris said many on campus disagree with Fenty’s policy decisions — his moves to reform education, failure to stop the spread of gentrification, and the commonly reported feeling that Fenty stopped connecting with his community.  “I could see some of my other colleagues in the same field that I work in being quite critical and wondering have I lost my mind,” he said.

Now, like Reihan, I happen to consider gentrification a nearly unalloyed good.  It means pushing out slums and urban blight in favor of thriving businesses, night life, and safe streets. But it’s not hard to imagine why poor and lower middle class blacks would see it as a threat to their city.   Further, as Matt Yglesias obliquely noted the other day, it’s a threat to the power of the black elites who’ve run the city since they got home rule in the 1970s.

For whites who live and/or work in the District, less crime, better schools, and economic development are the reason why, as a Washington Examiner endorsement put it, “Fenty deserves — and DC needs — four more years. ”  But, as an AFRO endorsement of his opponent, Vincent Gray, makes aptly clear, he did these things in a way that has alienated the majority community.

While the AFRO gives credit to Fenty for being results-oriented and affecting a quick-pace manner in accomplishing his agenda, we had reservations about his ability to communicate with and ensure inclusiveness of the African-American community. For instance, while Fenty implemented school reform in a system that is predominantly Black, the community had little input in this process.

Through his own admission, Fenty has been aloof to the African-American community and he apologized, promising to do better. Even so, Blacks have felt somewhat neglected under his watch and the mayor’s lack of response to their needs has left much to be desired.

And it’s not just about inclusiveness and attitude:

In stressing his goals for decreasing the current 10 percent jobless rate, Gray referred to enforcement of a new law that mandates 51 percent of new jobs created in the city must go to residents. So far, “It has been poorly enforced,” Gray said. “We let people come from everywhere to work in the District, and our own people end up being out of work.”

Obviously, as someone who commutes in from Virginia, that’s not my agenda.  And I’m not sure how it would pass Constitutional muster.  But I understand why it would appeal to DC’s mostly black resident population.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Fenty was his own worst enemy in this election.  While the objective of his school reform was laudable, the secretive and unaccountable process that he allowed schools chancellor Michelle Rhee to enact really pissed off many black parents and the teachers.  And I would agree with you that the majority black population of DC feels it hasn’t been benefitted as much from the revitalization and gentrification, especially those east of the Anacostia River.

  2. James Joyner says:

    While John Edwards overstated the degree to which there are two America’s, I don’t think there’s much doubt but that there are really to DCs.   And it’s worth reminding ourselves that most of us in the affluent part have next to zero contact with the rest.

  3. JKB says:

    I happen to consider gentrification a nearly unalloyed good.  It means pushing out slums and urban blight in favor of thriving businesses, night life, and safe streets. But it’s not hard to imagine why poor and lower middle class blacks would see it as a threat to their city.

    Let’s admit that the reason poor and lower middle class people, not just blacks oppose gentrification is that when it happens, they have to move: Rents go up, property taxes go up, and some busybody from the now active community comes around to harass you to make expensive “historical” renovations.  In the long run good for the city but not for most of the people who lived there before the revitalization.

  4. DC Loser says:

    and Chocolate City is getting more and more Vanilla each day. 

  5. sam says:

    “But it’s not hard to imagine why poor and lower middle class blacks would see it as a threat to their city. ”
    Yeah, back in the day, “Urban Renewal” was understood to mean “Urban Removal”.

  6. Don L says:

    The only majority that matters is the that of Western Civilization with its foundation in Judeo-Christian belief. There is no other legitimate source of freedom in spite of the euphamism of referring to our Creator as “Nature’s God”

    Much of WC and its values have already been discarded by white (and black) America as too inconvenient with it’s embrace of the culture of death, it’s  sexual immorality, the destruction of the family, the commodification foo the human, and it’s greed and envy.

    WC has been replaced by the great welfare state in the minds of far too many. We are at a crossroads and if non-whites can save us, this white man gladly says – so be it.

  7. White Woman says:

    Fenty was great for my people.