News & Politics

Fenty’s Midterm Report Card

Mayor Adrian Fenty has reached the midpoint of his four-year term. Let’s grade him.

 This report is a sidebar to the article "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.” Read more here.

Public Safety: B

Appointing Cathy Lanier, a white woman, to run a 4,000-member majority-black department in a majority-black city was a bold stroke. So far, she has done well. Homicides—143 in the first nine months—are on a par with last year’s. Robberies are down slightly, but shootings are still rampant.

Lanier has put crime information and police deployments online; residents can alert cops to crime and get instant feedback. She’s increased foot beats from 100 to 280 and promises 400 by next year. But many street cops, backed by the police union, feel Lanier is carrying on the heavy-handed discipline that demoralized cops under her predecessor, Charles Ramsey.

“The only thing that matters is whether people feel safe in their own homes,” says Tom Blagburn of the University of the District of Columbia Institute for Public Safety & Justice. “In many neighborhoods, especially east of the Anacostia River, people live with gunfire every night. Life is not supposed to be that way.”

Schools: Incomplete

Fenty gets an A+ for courage in taking over the schools and making himself accountable for their success or failure. He gets high marks for refurbishing athletic fields and renovating dozens of schools. Construction czar Allen Lew is competent, determined—and overburdened.

School chancellor Michelle Rhee is Fenty’s match in energy, focus, and speed in making decisions. She has his total backing. Rhee has taken control of the ossified central bureaucracy, closed 23 schools, and moved to disregard teachers’ tenure after contract negotiations with the union stalled.

Test scores are rising, but it is impossible to gauge Rhee’s progress after only half of a school year. Students and parents mostly report good results.

“When you walk into Coolidge High now, there’s an environment of learning,” says Terry Goings, president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization. “Half the teachers are new. The place looks great. Everybody is being held accountable.”

But parents and students are still voting with their feet and leaving public schools for charter schools, funded with public dollars but independent of the school system.

Tourism: A

Mayor Fenty took on the cabbies early in his first year and replaced DC’s confusing zone-fare system with meters in every cab. Tourists and hospitality pros cheered. “It was the best thing he could have done,” says restaurateur Paul Cohn.

Fenty’s transportation department is keeping streets clean. He’s become a leading proponent of “green” programs, such as biking. Like Paris, DC now has a downtown bike-rental system.

Fenty’s relations with neighboring Maryland and Virginia are good—he’s close to Governors Martin O’Malley and Tim Kaine

In terms of image, DC has gone from having a mayor who was addicted to cocaine and lampooned on late-night TV shows to one who’s a smart triathlete.

Social Services: D

Fenty’s government has not done well by the city’s least fortunate, especially poor kids. His Children and Family Services Agency has lost a quarter of its social workers even as calls for help have flooded hotlines. Many observers say that Fenty’s firing of workers involved in the Banita Jacks tragedy, in which a mother was charged with killing her four daughters, contributed to the agency’s downfall. Fenty says the agency must do better.

Fenty has also closed the downtown homeless shelter at Franklin School and moved men to permanent housing. Some activists deplored the move; Fenty said he was acting quickly before winter set in, and providers of permanent-housing services applauded him.

Politics: A

Fenty is a natural pol. He remembers names, fixes problems, spends most of his time in the community, connects with voters—and they love him. He won the Democratic primary and all precincts. He has no opposition, and his political team—money man John Falcaccio and strategist Tom Lindenfeld—are in place for his next run in two years.

Despite rumors that he might take a job in a Barack Obama administration, there are no signs he would be lured from being mayor of DC.

More>> Capital Comment Blog | News & Politics | Society Photos