Ward 4 debate shows test of Fenty's popularity
Mayor Adrian Fenty, Council Chair Vincent Gray, and Leo Alexander all ended their nights at the Ward 2 mayoral candidate debate and straw poll in Thomas Circle. But whatever the results of the Ward 2 vote, for Gray and Fenty, the more telling of Wednesday night's two forums will be the Ward 4 citywide candidate forum at the packed Takoma Park Baptist Church.
Ward 4, afterall, and in particular the Takoma neighborhood, exemplifies the major tensions in this year's race. Its population, on the younger side, is heavily invested in education, and, due to the Fenty years, the ward is slowly seeing development that will help bring business back into the District from its well-developed neighbors in Maryland. All the same, the ward and neighborhoos have no shortage of slighted residents who detail with marked disappointment Fenty's departure from his attitude as their councilmember. Many Ward 4 residents have not taken well to his transition from the hands-on local politician who ousted incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis, saying she was out of touch with her constituents, to the aloof- and arrogant-seeming mayor, but he is nonetheless trying to reinvigorate support in his home turf.
It's a bad sign for Fenty, then, that mayoral hopeful Sulaimon Brown's enthusiastic recommendation that Fenty "and his cronies" serve jail time for alleged corruption garnered boisterous applause—more than Fenty's own closing statement did.
But Brown and jabs at Fenty weren't the only big applause getters for the night. (And Sulaimon was eventually booed for using a question about the development of the Walter Reed Hospital property as an opportunity to lambast the mayor some more). Far and away, the audience squeezed into the auditorium responded best to responses about jobs and job training. Although the mayoral candidates were front-and-center for most of the forum, At-Large candidate Clark Ray's recollection of dealing with potential District employees who couldn't completely read a job application was one such item. Leo Alexander's remarks about illegal immigrants and DCPS students' need for better guidance at home, and Council Chair candidate Vincent Orange's remarks about the rate at which D.C. jobs go to Maryland and Virginia citizens drew a big response.
Gray's closing statement to the standing-room-only venue was drowned out by cheers, whistles, and chants of "Gray, Gray, Gray!" "This forum is over, let's go home," shouted one supporter, obviously jabbing Fenty, who was still seated at the candidate's table. Fenty left after staying around to answer one more question, about what cuts the City must make to sustain itself. ("We have been able to live within our means, make tough decisions, and get things done," he said, adding that layoffs of city employees are lower than in many states). In his closing statement, he said, "We have people in our government who understand that your number one job is to get results," and that "the days are gone forever" where politicians who don't deliver on claims they make in their speeches. He exited to clapping that was somewhere between strong and polite.