News & Politics

Fenty vs. Gray: Who Should Run DC?

Having trouble choosing a Mayoral candidate? Harry Jaffe breaks down the decision.

This article appears in the September 2010 issue of Washingtonian. 

Four years ago, Adrian Fenty was the kid mayor elected in a landslide to whip DC’s lethargic government into a sleek machine—in his image as a triathlete. And in some ways he did. But in the process he lost the love of voters who had come to believe he was imperious, petulant, exclusive, and dismissive. If Fenty, 39, loses to DC Council chair Vincent Gray, 67, in the September 14 mayoral primary, political scientists will study the fall from power as a historic one. Here are five reasons to vote for—or against—the two leading candidates.

Adrian Fenty


1. Michelle Rhee and Allen Y. Lew. Fenty took over the perennially poor-performing DC public schools, luring Rhee here to reform the teaching system and Lew to fix the buildings. They have.

2. Taxis and tourism. Fenty forced cabs to install meters, which made them more user-friendly for tourists, and he burnished the capital’s image as a safe and lively destination.

3. Homelessness.
Adopting the “housing first” approach, Fenty made DC’s program into a model for the nation. It recently housed its 1,000th family.

4. Bricks and mortar—and dirt.
Fenty built or refurbished eight libraries and has started work on seven more. Lew’s crews refurbished athletic fields at 10 high schools, built or renovated 31 schools, and fixed bathrooms, boilers, and roofs across town. Rundown playgrounds and rec centers now teem with kids.

5. Leadership. Fenty is a strong, decisive executive who sets clear goals, expects his managers to accomplish them, and often achieves what he wants.


1. Michelle Rhee. Opponents despise her dictatorial style, her closing of schools, her firing of teachers.

2. Secrecy. Fenty held one free-for-all press conference in his first term. When he traveled, he refused to disclose his destination, purpose, or source of funding, whether on official business or for pleasure.

3. Autocracy. Fenty fought with the city council on petty and programmatic matters. Hating process, he closed the government to community groups and activists.

4. Cronyism. Fenty’s government bestowed millions of dollars in construction contracts on a small group of his friends; his lack of contrition made matters worse.

5. Candle power. Fenty has shown an inability to think on his feet.


Vincent Gray


1. Old guard. Having served on the city council and directed the DC Department of Human Services in the 1990s, Gray has deep roots in the community and connections to the old power elite.

2. Early-childhood education. Gray has written and passed legislation that provides pre-kindergarten for all District children.

3. University of the District of Columbia. Gray has championed UDC, sent millions to rebuild the campus, and supported its new community college, CCDC.

4.City-council support. Even-tempered and collaborative, Gray has built solid ties with the 12 council members.

5.Candle power. Gray can quickly grasp complex material, whether budgetary or programmatic, and can articulate problems and solutions.


1. Old guard. Gray would resurrect the politicians and lobbyists who brought the city close to bankruptcy in the 1990s. He is supported by every flawed or failed DC leader, including Marion Barry, Sharon Pratt Kelly, John Ray, Kevin Chavous, and H.R. Crawford.

2. Dithering style. Gray is indecisive. He has the typical legislator’s love of process, preferring contemplation over action.

3. Ethical lapses. DC’s Office of Campaign Finance cleared Gray of two charges—getting a sweetheart deal on a fence from a builder who does business with the city and using his official stationery to solicit funds for a Democratic Party event. The scent lingers.

4. Budget busting. Under his watch, the District spent down its savings and ran up its debt. Yet Gray was able to find more than $40 million in the dead of night to fund his pet streetcar project.

5.Lack of vision. Gray has yet to give voters a reason to punch his ticket, beyond the fact that he’s not Fenty.