Gut Check: The Adrian Fenty Roundup

Ousted D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty
Ousted D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty

If you want to know what the atmosphere in D.C. is like after incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty’s loss to Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary, then check the headlines and blogs coming from folks in the nation's capital.

In his "Straight Up" blog, Education Week’s Rick Hess says that there are lessons to be learned from Fenty's loss, one of which is education reform. He suggests that anyone who plans to have a career in district leadership must realize that the school system is the largest employer of the black middle class. When attempting education reform, the blunt, "take no prisoners" approach of Fenty and Michelle Rhee backfired, which other reformers must note. His takeaway is threefold: Lean on Gray to keep Rhee because the reform is actually working; reformers need political cover and connections with parents who inevitably will question "outsiders" while benefitting from the changes; it is insane to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Hess writes, "To lose decisively after three years of remarkable school transformation illustrates just why reformers need to stop playing the same old game and need to start changing the rules.”

Until that happens, one must play the game. As of this posting, Fenty has yet to make a public concession speech. It has been reported by The Washington Post that Fenty called Gray but has not officially conceded the race. Could it be that critics are correct about Fenty — that he is a petulant, "not so nice" man who lacks respect for older constituents? Perhaps he should take Hess' observations about reform and expectations and apply it to this situation. To keep behaving in the way that you are accused of, which led to the loss, is insane. Sure, Fenty is mad that he lost over potential pettiness, especially to someone who once endorsed the young mayor, but there is such a thing as class and protocol, even in politics.


The City Paper's headline is "Adrian Fenty Kinda, Sorta Tries to Concede." Jason Cherkis writes that even after The Washington Post declared Gray victorious, Fenty announced to his supporters, "We got a fight on our hands!" Clearly, he wasn't ready to concede defeat, even then. Cherkis writes that Fenty quietly slipped away, leaving his supporters there. Cherkis had to inform a volunteer, who had knocked on 5,000 doors for Fenty, that his mayor had "conceded" — i.e., called Gray. is reporting that the Fenty loss is also due to the local media, with which he has a frosty relationship. "Adrian Fenty treated the media pretty much like he treated everybody else," says NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood. Erik Wemple writes, “No translation necessary there. It's all on the collective record — Fenty scowling at a news anchor, snapping at a group of print reporters, ducking questions about foreign travel. Generally being a difficult guy to interview."

Ultimately, many believe that it was Fenty's leadership style that ruined his chances of being re-elected. In The Washington Post, Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman write that Fenty's reliance on his gut for his decision making failed him. It was his gut that made him run for public office in 2000. It was his gut that made him run for mayor, when people said that he was too young and inexperienced. It was his gut that told him voters would overlook questions about his leadership style and treatment of people, instead focusing on his major achievements while in office. Fenty got a gut check, because voters do care about leadership styles, accessibility and respect.

Perhaps Fenty, in not publicly conceding defeat or wishing his opponent well, is still relying on his gut. His gut may be failing him again, as criticism of his failure to concede grows. Fenty has said that he will not run on the Republican ticket or as an independent against Gray if he loses the race. If he fails to do the right thing — publicly admit defeat and wish Gray well — then his gut isn't all that he will need to continue in politics, at least in this town.

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