Washington Post's Kingmaker Picks Fenty for Mayor

Colby King today chose the next mayor of the nation’s capital.

By: Harry Jaffe

That may seem a stretch, seeing that the primary is a week away. And King is only one member of a Washington Post editorial board and decision-making process that includes Post Company chair Don Graham.

But for all intents and purposes, when the Post anointed insurgent councilmember Adrian Fenty Tuesday morning with a full-throated endorsement, his ten-point lead in the polls over DC Council chair Linda Cropp became all but insurmountable. And though the endorsement process is collaborative, everyone—even Graham—bows to King.

He may be one of the last kingmakers in big-city daily journalism.

Colby King is the avenging angel of Washington metro columnists, though the targets of his stinging columns might describe him as an assassin with a pen.

You almost feel sorry for Mayor Tony Williams when King slices and dices him in the columns that appear every Saturday across the Post’s op-ed page.

But it’s hard to drum up pity for Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin. For months, King ruined her Saturdays in a relentless portrayal of how she jailed Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old paraplegic, for possession of one marijuana cigarette, and how he died at the hands of derelict jailers.

King despises derelict public officials and bureaucrats. His digging and probing columns must embarrass city-desk reporters for not doing what they should be doing.

King, deputy editor of the Post’s editorial page, is a native of DC. He labored in local and international banking, worked in the Treasury department and the Senate, and served as a diplomat in Germany before joining the Post in 1990.

His weekly columns often come from the heart of a local boy whose reservoir of outrage over fools in power never runs dry. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2003.

Last month, says editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt, each candidate for the September 12 Democratic mayoral primary came in for an audience with the editorial board, which then deliberated with “careful consideration.” King’s views, Hiatt says, “carry great weight.”

When Marion Barry first ran for mayor in 1978, the Post ran seven editorial endorsements. The Post made Barry mayor. Today the Post’s clout is much diminished, yet it could be crucial in a close race.

King, 66, moderated half a dozen forums and heard all the candidates. It came down to Cropp and Fenty.

Did it help that Fenty was born in DC?

“I’ve heard him talk about growing up in Washington and getting poor government service,” King says. “He speaks not as a critic but as a consumer. He says he would never let that happen again.”

King lives with his wife, Gwen, and their two dogs in Fenty’s ward. He’s seen the councilmember get streetlights fixed and alleys cleaned and handle other constituent services.

Says King: “He pounces on problems. I would expect the same kind of service as mayor—not that others wouldn’t work as well.”

And Cropp? “She has experience, a good bearing, good temperament. She can handle difficult situations without getting flustered. She’s good on Capitol Hill. She knows the machinery of government.

“The difference between the two is that she might try to keep the machinery of government well oiled; Adrian might be inclined to scrap it and try some new devices.

“Either way,” King says, “we can’t go wrong.”

Over the past few weeks, other Post columnists have written admiringly of Fenty. Business columnist Steve Pearlstein penned a paean to Fenty’s ability to manage the government. Metro columnist Marc Fisher swooned over the young candidate’s energy. Vanessa Williams’s Style report cast Fenty as a buff young man who competes in triathlons with his dad.

But it’s Colby King who will bring voters to Adrian Fenty on election day.