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Adrian Fenty: Born to Run
Adrian Fenty is always on the go, whether training for a triathlon or running the DC government. In his first two years as mayor, he’s acted swiftly and boldly—some would say hastily and unwisely. His own assessment? “We’re not moving fast enough.” By Harry Jaffe
Before dawn three mornings a week, Fenty trains for triathlons at high-school tracks around DC. He also bikes and swims at Hains Point. Photo by Jay Wescott
Comments () | Published November 1, 2008

The city sleeps. The mayor runs.

It’s 5:15 in the morning. The surface of the new track behind a DC high school north of Capitol Hill is pitch black in the predawn darkness. Runners approach, one at a time or in small groups. No one speaks. They know the routine. They start running intervals, first seven minutes, then six, then five, and finally sprints.

DC mayor Adrian Fenty arrives at 5:30 and slips into the small pack of runners. He has left his house in the Crestwood neighborhood, just east of Rock Creek Park, at 5 am. He got up at 4:45. He tried not to wake his wife, Michelle, who’s about two months from having their third child; he tiptoed past the bedroom where his sons, Matthew and Drew, were asleep. A friend drove him to the track.

He runs with a graceful gait, taking broad strides with his long legs. There are about 20 in all training for marathons or triathlons, the latter the mayor’s chosen challenge. They train at several tracks around DC, keeping the setting and schedule secret; it’s by invitation of the mayor.

In Fenty’s first 22 months in office, his government renovated fields at six DC schools, and it’s completing similar work at six more. Four mayors over three decades, including Marion Barry in his 16 years, had let many of the fields turn to clay as hard as concrete; Fenty ordered them fixed after taking office.

At 6:45 the sun starts to brighten the sky over the US Capitol a few blocks down New Jersey Avenue. The triweekly training run is over. Fenty slips into his warm-up pants and jacket bearing the logo of Fleet Feet—his family’s running shop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. He talks trash with the other runners; some have been training with him since long before he became mayor.

Fenty returns home, showers, puts on a striped shirt, blue tie, and dark suit, eats breakfast with Michelle and the boys, and drives the kids to school in nearby Shepherd Park. It’s approaching 9 am—time to be mayor.

At 9:15 he’s having a breakfast meeting with city-council members on the fifth floor of the John Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. During the hourlong session, Fenty takes notes, works his BlackBerry, consults aides. The smiles around the table mask varying degrees of animosity and mistrust between the young mayor and the 13 legislators.

After the meeting, the mayor is off to race through the rest of the day. He stops by his bullpen on the third floor of the John A. Wilson Building—the open office where everyone from secretaries to top deputies to the mayor has a cubicle. He hops in his tiny black-and-white Smart convertible, riding shotgun so he can work the BlackBerry. His “confidential assistant,” Veronica Washington, drives. He has no police detail; it would slow him down.

By 10:30 Fenty has crossed town to Bowen Elementary School on M Street, Southwest, near the new Nationals Stadium. Bowen served the predominantly black and poor kids of the neighborhood. Fenty, who took over the schools shortly after his inauguration in 2007, closed it and 22 other schools; he’s shown up today to showcase its conversion into a police station.

Fenty and Veronica Washington grab sandwiches at a takeout. He eats the turkey wrap as they ride in the car. His shiny bald head pops up through the open top.

It’s back to city hall for a few meetings, then off to a press conference on Capitol Hill about HIV/AIDS. The District has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of people living with AIDS. Reports indicate that one in 50 DC residents has the disease. Fenty says he wants to make AIDS his top health priority; activists say there’s a lack of urgency. He promises more action.

He heads back across town to city hall for meetings. At 5:30 he and Washington are driving across the Anacostia River in rush-hour traffic to make the opening of the Pop Warner peewee football season. The field at the Kenilworth-Parkside Recreation Center is refurbished, thanks to Fenty. He takes off his jacket, throws footballs, and tosses the coin for the start of the game.

The kids and the adults treat him like a combination of rock star and athlete. It’s a reception he gets all over town from residents who applaud his crusade to make the government more responsive.

At 7:15, 14 hours of nonstop action since he hit the high-school track, the mayor heads home. No downtime. It’s the way he has run the DC government for the first half of his first term.

Which raises questions:

How does he keep up that energy? Can he maintain it—and instill it in his government? Is Fenty’s fast-and-furious style good for the District, especially its most vulnerable citizens?

“There are strengths and weaknesses in wanting to do things yesterday,” says one of his inner circle.

I ask Fenty to assess his first half term. He doesn’t do small talk.

“We’re not moving fast enough,” he says. Period.

Says at-large councilmember David Catania, “He’s not inclined to hold your hand or have a beer with you. He’s not going to make you feel important, period.”

When Adrian Fenty campaigned for mayor in 2006, he walked the city—and won every precinct in the primary and general elections.

He could campaign, people acknowledged, but could he govern? It was a reasonable question to ask about a 35-year-old lawyer who had been on the city council for a term and a half.

After nearly two years in office, some critics say that he is governing too much and too fast.

Having outrun, outmaneuvered, and occasionally ignored the city council, he’s become virtually an autocrat.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 11/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles