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September 1, 2010

1:32
P.M.

Fenty-Gray debate analysis with Mike DeBonis

Total Responses: 46

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Mike DeBonis

Mike DeBonis

Mike DeBonis covers local politics for The Washington Post.

About the topic

Mike DeBonis, who covers local politics for The Washington Post, will be online Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss the debate between Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

Washington Post Live, the conference division of The Washington Post, hosts the debate on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at noon in the Newseum's Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater. It is sponsored by the Post in partnership with the Newseum, NBC4 and WAMU 88.5.

Q.

Mike DeBonis :

The Washinton Post debate between Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray ended here at the Newseum about a half-hour ago.  Here is what I wrote to wrap up over at Washington Post Live:

As expected, Gray hit his main points throughout -- he offered a critique of Fenty on collaborativeness, on his jobs record, and on "cronyism and sweetheart deals." Fenty was effective at fighting back on the cronyism charges, asking Gray to deliver proof, but Gray hit back by asking about the firing of a key figure in the drama. Fenty tried to show a different side of himself in his closing, talking about how he never expected to be criticized as deeply as he's been and promising to make changes. He mentioned his wife, Michelle, who was in the audience today and his hopes for his children. He sought to humanize himself in a way he very rarely has done. But is it too late? For the crowd here today, made up largely of campaign partisans, perhaps not. But many WAMU listeners and WRC viewers may see this and see a side of Fenty they simply have not seen since 2006.

What was remarkable was what happened after the debate. For the first time in this reporter's memory, Fenty's wife Michelle stood by him and spoke from the heart, her voice cracking several times. "the poll was so striking to me," she said, explaining that she be taking a higher profile on the campaign trail in the last two weeks. "I felt compelled to speak" citing "so many misconceptions about him."

Q.

DC

It is absolutely insane to me that D.C. residents are actually going to kick Fenty out of office because he hasn't displayed enough "pol-like" behavior. Pathetic. D.C. voters deserve what they get. If Fenty loses this election, I will have absolutely no sympathy for D.C. residents when they complain about poor services, poor schools, etc. Gray makes them feel good. That and a dollar will buy you a can of soda.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

This is no doubt a sentiment I hear quite a bit, both among close observers of District politics and among those who watch from arms length. But I don't think that D.C.residents are all that different from voters anywhere else in that they want a leader they can connect with, that they feel cares about their concerns. Fenty, our poll shows, has been almost preternaturally bad at that. And should he lose he'll be left wondering why he didn't heed the warning signs sooner -- which certainly should have been apparent in January, when the Post published a poll showing the same divide you see now -- folks like what he's done but don't care for him personally. There is no reason he should be attempting to "rebrand" himself now, a few weeks before election day.

– September 01, 2010 1:41 PM
Q.

special education costs

Mike, I think you need to check your facts on improvements in special ed under Fenty -- there have been no cost decreases or drop in enrollments to non-DCPS schools.... Gray is correct that there is a lot of potential savings there for someone who can actually fix this problem.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

I am not aware of the numbers. But I can speak with authority on this: The Fenty administration has moved mountains to try and reduce the number of special education students put into private placements. As every city official has realized going back at least to Tony Williams, special education is an opportunity for great cost savings. But it's a very difficult thing to realize those savings. You have to build capacity within DCPS, then convince parents and judges that they can provide the necessary services. All this is complicated that the city's special ed system is under federal court oversight.

– September 01, 2010 1:44 PM
Q.

Spousal Loyalty -- Too Little Too Late

Voters have been voting for over 60 hours. Thousands more will be voting starting Saturday. There is no "last two weeks" for Michelle Fenty to overcome the judgment made by voters over the past four years. I commend Michelle's loyalty but I suspect the chief value of her belated display of loyalty will be to keep her family together after Adrian loses the election. So, it was a good thing that she finally showed up. But whoever was responsible for keeping her off the campaign trail until now made a serious error.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

This is oh so very true about early voting. The poll Sunday reflected an electorate that would be able to cast ballots just days after taking the survey -- of course many of voters taking advantage of this were already re"solute supporters of a candidate who are "locked in" for Fenty or Gray. I have no comment on Michelle Fenty's motives, but I agree that what is accomplished by her appearance today -- illustrating Fenty the family man, a man of personal warmth -- needed to attempted many months ago. And Fenty had plenty of clues starting certain last summer telling him that.

– September 01, 2010 1:50 PM
Q.

D.C.

Is there any reason to believe that Fenty WANTS to lose this election? Does he have some high paying gig lined up somewhere else or something?  It seems to me that is the only way to explain his unbelievably poor performance. I am being serious about this. Is he tired of being mayor or something?

A.
Mike DeBonis :

Well, interesting theory, but it goes against everything I know about Adrian Fenty -- that he is a relentless competitor, that he honestly rejects the old ways of politics in this town, and that it would be a terrific blow to lose to Vince Gray, who he feels represents those old ways.

– September 01, 2010 1:53 PM
Q.

My Dentist

My dentist is very gung-ho about Michelle Rhee and the improvements in the D.C. schools. He is going for Fenty because he is afraid that if Fenty loses, Rhee heads for Sacramento and the schools will be set back ten years. Does Gray have a plan for the schools. I saw today that the previous Chancellor has been fired in New Jersey and may be ready to return.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

Gray's education plan is predicated on a "birth to 24" system -- meaning he wants to broaden focus to include pre-K and to strengthen the city's public universities  (UDC/CCDC). Now that's a self-serving approach in the sense that it allows him to take advantage of his legislative accomplishments vis-a-vis pre-K and UDC. The other criticism is that broadening the focus of reform would mean losing a focus on K-12. As for what happens to Rhee, it's an open question -- the two of them haven't gotten along generally under the spotlight of big-city politics. But there is a possibility, however, miniscule, that once the election is over, Rhee and Gray both realize they have more to lose than gain by her continued tenure.

– September 01, 2010 1:57 PM
Q.

Fenty's Election Lawyers Preparing to Litigate Ballot Counting

Dorothy Brizill reported in themail at dcwatch dot com that Perkins Coie is representing Adrian Fenty for election law proceedings. Perkins Coie is the law firm that represents the Democratic Party, its campaign committees, and the White House. That firm's former political law chair Bob Bauer is now the President's White House Counsel. Bauer's successor at that firm is Marc Elias, who filed the last-minute petition to the DC BOEE last week to bust open the Democratic primary (i.e., to allow non-Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary). Elias filed an FOIA request with the BOEE for massive quantities of data on ballot counting. Exactly the kind of data that Republicans tried to use to steal the Minnesota election from Al Franken, a threat that Perkins Coie beat back as Franken's lawyers (on behalf of the DSCC, probably). I hope the WaPo will cover Fenty's lawyers' preparations to disrupt our local elections.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Actually, I beat Dorothy to the punch on reporting the Elias letter:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/26/AR2010082606168.html

Make no mistake, I and other reporters are aware of the potential for an extended ballot count.

 

– September 01, 2010 1:59 PM
Q.

corruption

Although Michelle Rhee is obviously important to the Fenty administration, you never hear about Fenty's most important appointee - Neil Albert. It's baffling that a person that has always been at the crux of so many charges of corruption is never mentioned in the campaign.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Neil is a low-key guy by nature. "Corruption" is a strong word to use, but it is fair to say that Neil has tried to remain outside the spotlight as much as possible, letting his older, louder counterpart within the Fenty inner circle -- Peter Nickles -- be the lightning rod. Neil has also acted as a conciliatory figure in the late Fenty term, helping maintain relations with CMs peeved by Fenty and Nickles.

– September 01, 2010 2:01 PM
Q.

Relentless Competitor

Mike, you are probably right that Adrian is a "relentless competitor." But he competes in SOLO competitions, e.g., triathlons, marathons, not TEAM sports like Vince Gray (baseball, softball). Voters may understand Adrian better than Adrian understands himself. Politics, and certainly running a city government, are team sports, not solo contests. P.S. We sure are lucky Mike DeBonis joined the WaPo team. Thank you for working overtime on this election for us.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Aww shucks, thanks for the compliment. I am very lucky to be working with a top notch team including Nikita Stewart, Tim Craig, Ann Marimow, Bill Turque, and the other metro staffers who are helping to cover this election.

That said, you make a fine point.

– September 01, 2010 2:03 PM
Q.

Economic development, Fenty v. Williams

What is the dollar value of economic development initiatives under the Fenty administration? Strictly new initiatives, not those on the board under the Williams regime, and how do the two administrations compare in inflation-adjusted dollars?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

An interesting question I don't have a ready answer for. Capital budgeting is a complicated process that stretches over years and requires initimate knowledge of debt instruments and "pipelines" and such.

I can say that Nikita did an examination of Fenty capital spending and found little evidence to suggest claims that he favors richer parts of town.

– September 01, 2010 2:06 PM
Q.

Rocci Fisch :

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's spending priorities don't favor certain wards, data show

Q.

Gray, what is his plan?

I am not happy with Fenty at all, however he has made progress. I did not like Fenty's "I am untouchable attitude" but he is getting things done. That said, what will Gray do to make things better? Be everyone's friend? That NEVER works. That said, can you or anyone tell me exactly how Gray will improve things? I only hear promises, which ultimately turn into empty promises... erik
A.
Mike DeBonis :

The way Gray articulated his case today is to say that Fenty's abrasive style has in fact helped to inhibit progress, that his unwillingness to deal with legislators and community representatives creates action, but action that leaves key players unsatisfied.

– September 01, 2010 2:08 PM
Q.

Special Education response

As Yoda would say: Try not, do. They may have wished to move mountains -- but the results are not there.... more money, more kids in private placements.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Fair enough, but Gray has not really elucidated what he'd do differently except "try harder."

– September 01, 2010 2:08 PM
Q.

Re: "Pol-like behavior"

Mike, Unfortunately, it is not simply the fact that Fenty has a terrible personality that turns some voters off. Rather it is that this terrible personality has an impact on issues of substance. If Fenty doesn't think that you are on his team, then you are gone. If he doesn't like you, then your program may lose funding. It doesn't matter whether the people or programs are having a positive impact on the city. This is what I hear far more often than the "he's just got a bad attitude" sentiment.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

I'll note this: In his earliest days, Fenty decided who was with him and who was against him on the matter of mayoral control of schools. The unions, the Chamber of Commerce, and certain council members opposed him and they never re-established good relations with the administration after that.

– September 01, 2010 2:11 PM
Q.

Voter Evaluation

This race is really about a shift in voter psyche. The polarity between D.C. resident satisfaction with D.C.'s progress/direction and their disapproval of Fenty makes an interesting statement: it really isn't about results. Though we clamor for a politician who isn't a "politician," the polls show we in fact want a "politician." Is this a phenomenon or a revelation of human paradox?

A.
Mike DeBonis :

Uhh, I guess I'd lean toward human paradox. My corollary to your comments, which I agree with wholeheartedly, is that "politics as usual" is what you do to win votes. You ignore "politics as usual" at your peril.

– September 01, 2010 2:13 PM
Q.

Ward 4

I am genuinely undecided, grateful as someone said in an earlier chat that, for the first tme in recent, and not so recent, memory we have two qualified candidates running for mayor. But you know what sticks in my craw? Gray's fence. Not that he built it, but that he's the only person who has ever been charged with a violation. If that's not political, what is? Plus Fenty just seems arrogant to me. And I don't like Michelle Rhee. But I still think he's done a pretty good job.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

Welp, you've got a lot to thing about in 13 days, Ward 4. The fence issue is notable for the role that Nickles, Fenty's top adviser, played in making sure the fence was removed. He said he intervened to make sureGray wasn;t given special treatment, but as you note, there's no one else in the city who got similar treatment to compare it to.

– September 01, 2010 2:15 PM
Q.

Rancho Cucamonga, Ca

Who in the press is going to press Fenty on this: "Thank you Kevin for this D.C. United jersey and congratulations on your terrific season," Fenty said. "It is great to see over 20,000 fans here at RFK supporting D.C. United. It is my hope that your fans will soon be coming to your brand new soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Anacostia. World-class fans, and a world-class team like D.C. United, deserve a world-class stadium. And I am going to make it a priority to help you build that stadium. Thank you -- congratulations and good luck to the Black-and-Red!" -Adrian Fenty on Oct 29 2006 (right before a mayoral elction mind you) Been about 4 years and Fenty has pretty much done NOTHING to help D..C United get their stadium built. How much does this just go to show that Fenty is a typical politician who will say anything, to anyone to get elected.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

I hear his a whole lot from D.C. United fans on Twitter, that Fenty broke a promise to pursue a soccer stadium. I disagree on this, I think the soccer stadium is one issue Fenty handled early and handled well. There was a proposal in place for ex-DCU owner Victor MacFarlane to build a privately financed stadium in exchange for the rights to develop the Poplar Point parcel. But Fenty rightly realized that would have been a sweetheart giveaway of one of the city's largest greenfield development parcels. He put it out for bid instead, and a stadium was not a requirement. And in the years since, the capital markets collapsed, the city has hit its debt ceiling and no sane local politician is stumping for public financing of a soccer stadium -- here or in any other surrounding jurisdiction.

– September 01, 2010 2:20 PM
Q.

Future

As a Fenty/Rhee supporter preparing for a likely Gray victory I want to understand what exactly will change? I do not have any clue on where Gray stands on the school reform and/or economic development. Is he going to continue the Fenty agenda, but just in a kinder, gentler way by attending a few Sunday serices east of the River? I support Fenty/Rhee for maintaining some momentum and the fact that I prefer business like work, but what truly are the substantive differences between the two?

A.
Mike DeBonis :

It's a really difficult question to answer. As i mentioned, it is not quite fait accompli that Rhee leaves if Gray wins, but it's close. With his first superintendent pick, Gray will preview what his administration will be like. I find it difficult to believe he'll hire Cliff Janey back, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

– September 01, 2010 2:22 PM
Q.

Fenty v Gray

I too, am perplexed that so many would vote for Gray because they dislike Fenty, even though they say he's done a good job. People, he's an employee of yours, and he's doing well. Don't fire him. Mike, do you think the D.C. residents, like the rest of the country, think they want their problems solved, but don't really like the solutions when they arrive? Is it all just talk? They say "Fix this, but don't bother me about it, and don't let it interfere with my life."

A.
Mike DeBonis :

As I've said before, people may think they want a corporate CEO as their mayor, but people sure tend not to like corporate CEOs.

– September 01, 2010 2:24 PM
Q.

The Gentrification Issue

As a couple of columnists have pointed out, much of the divide over Fenty is based upon the gentrification issue - specifically, the perception by some in the black community that Fenty is more concerned about the "wealthy" (i.e., white voters) than the non-wealthy (i.e., black voters). But when people deride the construction of dog parks and bike lanes, what they miss is the fact that the people they believe are using these dog parks and bike lanes - upper-income professionals - are paying most of the taxes that are funding the relatively generous social safety net that is provided by DC. I don't have any kids in the DC school system. But as a higher-income homeowner, more of my tax dollars are going to DC schools than most of the parents who have kids in those schools. The city needs high-income taxpayers who don't use many city services because they are the ones who are funding the school system and all of the other social welfare programs in this town.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

That is very true, and WAMU-FM's Patrick Madden asked that question quite directly to Gray: How do you increase the tax base without gentrification?

Gray's answer was weak IMHO; he tried to pivot to unemployment. But an unspoken part of Gray's pitch is that he's better equipped to bridge the divides of gentrification, that he'll do what it takes to send the message that poor residents won't be left behind, that they can share in the prosperity. There is no way gentrification ends. No mayor in the history of this city has been anti-development in any meaningful way.

– September 01, 2010 2:28 PM
Q.

Mayoral debate

How is the Post tracking what's happening within D.C. government to see what this administration is attempting to push through with the election on the horizon? With more than its fair share of Consent Decrees and related court and federal oversight constructs, the District is infamous for "last ditch" efforts to force things to "closure," thereafter binding future administrations with unworkable agreements and the like . . .

A.
Mike DeBonis :

Interesting you should mention consert decrees, court involvement, etc. "Binding future administrations with unworkable agreements" has been a hobbyhorse of Nickles', so I doubt you will see much of that. What I do see is a spate of ribboncuttings and groundbreakings. Today, Fenty will break ground on the O Street Market in Ward 2, a long awaited mixed use development in Shaw, and on Gage-Eckington Park, a reuse of a former school site in LeDroit Park.

– September 01, 2010 2:30 PM
Q.

Economic Development

So what do you think the difference might be between Gray and Fenty in terms of gentrification issues? Southwest and Columbia Heights are two examples with vastly different outcomes so far.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Like I said, gentrification will continue apace. Real estate money is the lifeblood of city electoral politics. Gray is running effectively without it for now, but he will be seeing a huge infusion before the general election.

Col Hts and SW are in different phases of the same phenomenon. The first major development in SW in years opened earlier this year at Waterfront Station. Fenty and CM Tommy Wells deserve credit for pushing that through as the economy collapsed. On the horizon is a much grander development to remake the Waterfront. Gray will not be standing in its way.

– September 01, 2010 2:34 PM
Q.

Dismissal of Bill Slover

Obviously Mr. Gray thinks there is more to the issue of Bill Slover being relieved of the Chairmanship of the DC Housing Authority Board. Obviously that was political, but do you know what the issue was?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

In short, Fenty now says Slover was fired for refusing to send the parks contracts to the DC Council. Slover says he was fired because he wanted to end DCHA's involvement in their administration after it blew up in the papers. That would have tied these suspect deals more directly to Fenty. Here's a column I wrote about the issue some months back.

– September 01, 2010 2:36 PM
Q.

"pol-like" behavior

In response to your first questioner, I think it is Fenty's "pol-like behavior" that has gotten him into trouble to an extent. It's not the macro results that people object to, but rather the perception that he's putting his cronies into power positions and running the city as an autocrat. Doing stupid things like keeping the Council's baseball tickets from them was just petty and small. Then you have his reneging on the Poplar Point development that blind-sided a lot of people. It's quite possible that Gray will continue several of Fenty's good things but could possibly eliminate the bad things. Those who think that only Fenty can run the city seem to be going a bit far to me.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I agree with the first part of your statement, with the exception of Poplar Point. If MacFarlane had secured the rights, the city would be in a tough spot, since his business was severely affected by the 08 crash.

– September 01, 2010 2:38 PM
Q.

Take my wife, please

I honor a family's privacy, but I think Mr. Fenty could really have made better impressions if his wife (and he) were seen more often. Call me old-fashioned, but a spouse/family can "humanize" a hard-driven guy. Sexist? Sure, maybe. Still, Mr. Fenty is accused of lacking a "touch" that a simple photo-op or two could have ameliorated. Discuss.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I think you're right about the "humanizing." He didn't need his wife to do it, but he needed something.

– September 01, 2010 2:38 PM
Q.

New Strategy, Same Man

Having your spouse with you at political events is an age-old campaign strategy, so why do you think he mentioned that she was in the audience and thanked her today for the 1st time, and as you stated, her making a statement? Do you believe this will l help him, I don't think so because people can see right through this tactic or new "strategy like Gray said. Again, he forgot his new strategy to be open, and as usual, he does not answer questions directly. That really boils my blood.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I don't know if it will help him, but I can say I was personally struck by how affected I was to hear from his wife. I think it does help, but yes it is awfully late. In terms of not answering questions directly, it boils reporters' blood too, which may be petty of us but it has not helped him earn sympathy in the press.

– September 01, 2010 2:40 PM
Q.

And how do you pay for it?

Vince is having a great time promising magical ponies. Exactly when is the media going to hold him to explaining how he's going to pay for them? That "birth to 24" system is gonna be mighty expensive. And how is even more money to UDC, which has a god awful academic rep, and appears to be in the business of employing people to play "chase the lost accreditation 'whack a mole' game" going to help there. It already gets a ton without much improvement.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

His answer is "fix special ed" -- which as I noted earlier is easier said than done.

– September 01, 2010 2:41 PM
Q.

DC Schools

If MIchelle Rhee doesn't finish the job here -- a lot of families will leave D.C. I moved to Ward 6 to start a family. A lot of professionals have done the same. If those taxpayers leave -- then it won't matter what Vincent Gray does -- there will be no funds to help Marion Barry's constituents. Complicated all of this - is the fact that the mayor is an idiot. He just is not very smart. And most of the good changes in D.C. have come from his team. Vince Gray is definitely a smarter and better man than Fenty -- the question is whether he wants to go back to the old way of doing things.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

"whether he wants to go back to the old way of doing things" is what Adrian Fenty wants you to think about when you think about Vincent Gray. And it is striking how much faith young parents have placed in Michelle Rhee. Bill Turque talked to another parent who said she'd leave town if Rhee left.

– September 01, 2010 2:44 PM
Q.

Spending doesn't show favoritism?

Mike, Come on, the "numbers" in Nikita's piece are just straight numbers. There's no analysis of how many people benefit from this spending. For instance, she says that there is almost no difference in spending in schools in Wards 2 and 8. However there are 2x as many schools in Ward 8! How could you possibly say that there's no difference?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

That was a criticism of our analysis. The 21st Century Schools Project in particular crunched the numbers by square footage per student and found inequities.

– September 01, 2010 2:45 PM
Q.

The District Could be Feeling Downright Floridian

That's what you said in your lede last Friday: "the District could be feeling downright Floridian" if litigation erupts over ballot counting. Very sorry to have overlooked your scoop of the Marc Elias FOIA request. The comparison to Florida is exactly right, but DC voters may not realize that Fenty will be playing the role of George W. Bush stealing the election by claiming his constitutional rights were violated, or voters' rights were violated, by "unequal" counting methods or "discrimination" against voters who cast special ballots, or some such canard. It is outrageous that the Democratic Party's own election lawfirm is meddling in DC's local Democratic primary. Perkins Coie and the national party will pay a significant price for their interference.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Each campaign is entitled to hire the best possible defense should worse come to worst and there's a knock-down, drag-out ballot fight. When you're AF and you have $4 million in the bank, why not hire the best?

– September 01, 2010 2:47 PM
Q.

Rhee

Bill Turque's recent article in the Post indicated that the most recent DC CAS test results were possibly an anomaly, or the start of a reverse in Rhee's positive data trend. I would think that despite the pronouncements to the contrary, Rhee would be interested in staying on in DC, no matter who wins the election, to gather more data to prove herself correct in her strategy. Did you really mean to write at 1:57 pm that "there is a possibility, however, miniscule, that once the election is over, Rhee and Gray both realize they have more to lose than gain by her continued tenure" or, did you mean "more to gain then lose"?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

You're absolutely right, excuse me. If Rhee leaves without giving Gray a chance, she will open herself up to criticism of not finishing what she started or giving in to the "adult concerns" she so often cites as overwhelming education reform.

– September 01, 2010 2:48 PM
Q.

Pol Behavior?

People don't want political behavior; people have a problem with folks who come in vowing to clean up the politics and then resort to the same tactics. I think that is the real story behind the Fenty Fall.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Here's what I wrote in my analysis published Monday:

Fenty betrayed his message. Fenty has strived to portray himself as a cool, dispassionate manager tugging at the levers of the municipal machine, immune to the entreaties of special interests. The message of the Fenty reelection push has been in part to present a cosmic battle of old vs. new, with Fenty fighting the old guard that ran the city into financial ruin in the 1990s.

He can justifiably boast that he shrank city spending after years of budgets bloated by the real-estate boom. But he's undercut his claims of fiscal responsibility by repeatedly overspending on his summer-jobs program. Critics have said that Fenty isn't as interested in evicting the old guard as in creating an old guard of his own, noting that Fenty's appointments to key boards have been filled with lightly qualified friends. And although Fenty has denied any role in the award of parks contracts to close allies, he has made no public effort to distance himself from the alleged "cronies"; one of them, Sinclair Skinner, is a key campaign organizer.

– September 01, 2010 2:50 PM
Q.

The high rate of poverty in the District of Columbia

With 17.2% of the people in the District of Columbia living below the poverty line, why has there been no discussion about this high level of poverty in the District of Columbia or a strategic plan to reduce it?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

A great question, and a perplexing one. Solving poverty is not an issue that lends itself to 90-second answers and it's not an issue that moves a lot of votes. But I'd say that Gray and Fenty have both addressed at length the underlying causes of poverty -- a failing education system, chronic joblessness.

– September 01, 2010 2:52 PM
Q.

contracts

I couldn't help but share Fenty's frustration when Gray kept mentioning a wrong money amount on the contracts. Why does Gray continue doing that when the difference is so huge? For undecided voters, most of whom by now understand the contracts deal (so hard not to know about it) he risks coming across as dishonest. ...also the smirk doesn't help either.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

None of the numbers has been especially clear. The $82 million figure was reported in the early days of the story and has stuck; it's the figure Gray cites on the campaign trail. The first set of parks contracts moved by the Fenty admin to DCHA totaled about $40 million; a little more than $4 million were fees paid to Banneker Ventures, the company linked to Fenty's friend. That figure, about 11 percent, is unusally high, the Post has reported. Later on the Fenty admin moved to add more parks to the DCHA MOU, for what would have been a total approaching $100 million.

– September 01, 2010 2:56 PM
Q.

sensible choice

Fenty has delivered. If there is a little chronyism, who cares? If he doesn't make you feel good, who cares? For the first time in the 40 years I have lived in the area, it seems like the DC government is beginning to work. Take a look at Chicago. Under Daley (and his father) the city works. Nobody cares if there is a machine or a little graft. Garbage is picked up, snow is cleared, teachers don't strike, the city is dynamic. Feny is helpling DC move in that direction.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Well, we'll see if Richie Daley can hang on for a seventh term next year in spite of record-low approval ratings. Fenty openly admires Daley. Question for him: Why did it take Daley six terms before the people soured on him and it only took you one? I have a few answers to that question I will ponder at a later date.

– September 01, 2010 2:59 PM
Q.

basic services

I keep hearing that services in the city have improved. Well, I for one, do not think that's true. A few things I've experienced (and several neighbors I've talked to), trash pickup is horrendous (they are as arrogant as Fenty), arborist services are nonexistent (they do not prune trees or keep trees within city policy), tax refunds are awful (they make you wait until you call). I could go on and on with other examples. When you request a service online, the city often ignores it. When you try to call, you can't get through. Every service I've requested has only been done when I've gone through a council member's office. And even then the services are terrible. I'd like to see a poll on whether residents really think basic services have improved. They have not in my opinion and experience.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

The flip side of the Fenty-as-machine-pol argument. FWIW, our polling shows greater satisfication with city services, which has risen pretty consistently since Marion Barry's exit in 1999.

– September 01, 2010 3:01 PM
Q.

WTU and Gray

Gray has recently gained support from the WTU, someone in this marriage is going to be upset. Gray claims that charters are at the center of his education plan. If that is true more charters will open taking more students from DC schools, hence schools close and teachers lose jobs. The two sides to this can not be reconciled.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

A pessimistic view on the prospects for a "Rheeconciliation." Probably the right one.

– September 01, 2010 3:02 PM
Q.

Integrity or Accountability

I would like to know how Fenty defends keeping a CFO on board who is obliviouse to the corruption,miscalculation of funds, and theft in the DC gov. Who's really minding the store?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

That raises a great point -- no one to my knowledge has asked Fenty or Gray for their view on Natwar Gandhi's continued tenure as independent CFO. Of course, as the controller of the pursestrings, Gandhi is powerful and one of the savviest pols in town.

– September 01, 2010 3:04 PM
Q.

What if I simply don't like the guy?

Has no one in this debate ever not voted for someone because they just don't like the guy in their gut? It's not for others outside of DC to judge the motives of why someone would be crazy to not vote for Fenty and "get what they deserve." I wouldn't presume to tell anyone in Arlington how to vote; don't presume my vote for me. I just don't like the guy.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Good insight.

– September 01, 2010 3:04 PM
Q.

Hogwash

I've heard enough from recent DC transplants who threaten to leave if Rhee does. I say, "do us a favor and leave as of yesterday!" There are thousands upon thousands of us who have lived in DC for longer than an election cycle who pay boatloads of money in taxes. Contrary to another questioner's positing, DC has always attracted high income residents and it always will. I pay more than my share in taxes and could care less about a dog park or a bike lane. W/a school system upwards of 75% black, it stands to reason that a good number of those in support of Rhee, don't have children in DCPS and likely have no intentions on removing their kids from private schools. Yet, there is a meme developing that "they" know what's best for the city while "we" just want a handout, a return to the past. Something is wrong with that picture and the Post certainly shares quite a bit of responsibility for it. That explains how Fenty was consistently able to cite the "editorial board's" opinions in defense of him.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

You alight on an interesting divide, referring to the "thousands upon thousands of us who have lived in DC for longer than an election cycle who pay boatloads of money in taxes." My seat of the pants feel is that the length of one's residency in the city correlates pretty strongly to your mayoral preference -- meaning longtime residents tend to prefer Gray. Activist Gary Imhoff, a longtime white resident who is backing Gray, argued that length of residency, not race was the more meaningful divide in this race.

Unfortunately we did not ask our poll respondents how long they have lived here. I wish we had, and perhaps we will in the future.

And I will again remind readers that the editorial board operates separately from the newsroom. We have no input on their stories, they have no input on ours.

– September 01, 2010 3:09 PM
Q.

DC

"high poverty doesn't move voters"? This is exactly why the WaPo (and I love you guys) has not been able to get their minds truly around what is happening in this mayoral race.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I have never walked up to a voter -- in any part of the city -- and asked them what their issues were and had them tell me "high rate of poverty." I get answers like "education, jobs, and crime" -- issues surely related to poverty. I'd argue when we talk about approaches to handle those issues, we talk about poverty. One candidate in the Dem primary, Leo Alexander, has attacking "generational poverty" as a key plank in his platform. But voters have not responded to him.

– September 01, 2010 3:12 PM
Q.

Contract Steering - Lottery

Has Gray addressed any questions regarding the lottery contracts? Why did he take the unprecedented position of not allowing a Council vote on the 1st lottery contract for 9 months? Why did he meet with Bailey, the recipient of the 2nd contract, while the 1st contract was in abeyance? Did his refusals constitute contract steering?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

He has not been pressed on these issues as much as Fenty has been pressed on the contracts. A lot of ink was spilled on this when the contract was (not) moving through the council. Part of the problem for Fenty is that this was a complicated deal that defies an easy explanation of who benefited. Bailey ended up getting the contract, but no one has been able to explain how that helped Vince Gray, except to note that his mother once worked in DHS under Gray. Thin gruel. Certainly though, Gray's decision to slow walk the approval of a money saving deal is one of the lowlights of his otherwise good record as chairman.

– September 01, 2010 3:16 PM
Q.

sports

Mayor Fenty is beloved by the sports industry and has launched several good sports programs for poor kids. I dont think Gray will support anyting besides the typical sports and not to the extent necessary. I also feel Gray is going to feel pressured to not support programs like tennis because the perception of being a white sport. I am worry that Gray will surround himself by people with too much of a different style than Fenty's people. Sports organizations, sponsors run away from bureacratic governments and I dont think Gray will have the same appeal than Fenty has to them.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I am guessing that if there is a Mayor Gray, the National Marathon will no longer get its security costs comped.

– September 01, 2010 3:18 PM
Q.

what about democracy

As a white voter in Ward 6 with kids in DCPS from high school to elementary school, I am shocked at how many people say that they don't care how Fenty gets things done, that he doesn't listen to people doesn't matter to them. Well, what if the decisions that he made weren't all your way? This isn't how democracy works-it's not a one-man show. And my kids educational experience hasn't really changed for the better-in fact, they're still in decrepit buildings with weak leadership and some teachers who hold it all together and others who should have been forced to retire a long, long time ago. So the whole "Rhee is great" thing only flies if you're in a few schools that have been renovated (which is attributable to Lew, not Rhee) OR where she's trying to lure white families back-hello Ward 3.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Another Rhee-isn't-everything perspective. Rightly noted: Allan Lew, MUCH savvier politically than Rhee, rarely shows up in these debates because he's so noncontroversial. Expect him to stay on if Gray wins.

– September 01, 2010 3:20 PM
Q.

parks

I just read your explanation on the contracts but Banneker didn't get all the contracts money right? I think that is the point people are trying to make now. Is a big difference to say 100 million than a porcentage of a hundred million dollar contract (all under Harry Thomas nose BTW). The post did a good job explaining this.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

That is correct -- the fees that went to Banneker (Karim) and Liberty Engineering (Skinner) were only a small portion of the total contract amount. But many claim those percentages were unusually high. And it appears that Liberty subcontracted the work only to charge the city for a markup.

– September 01, 2010 3:21 PM
Q.

Fenty/ Gray, Bush/ Gore comparison

I understand what the poster earlier was trying to say as far as who's behind in the race, but Fenty ends up being more like Gore. Just like Gore there is no way he should lose the race and has to be left wondering why he didn't make changes sooner. And just like Bush, Gray is the more likable candidate.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Good one. Here's one analogy to national politics I drew earlier this year.

– September 01, 2010 3:23 PM
Q.

Health Care in DC

Hey Mike. I have fully enjoyed your coverage of this election. Has either candidate discussed their plans regarding healthcare in the District? I am especially interested to know their thoughts on improving HIV/AIDS related services and curbing transmission rates in DC.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

There was a forum devoted to HIV/AIDS issues, but I missed it.

Here's one interview with Gray focused on the issue.

– September 01, 2010 3:25 PM
Q.

impressions re Fenty & Gray's performance

1) Do you think that this debate changed anyone's impression about the candidates? Gray sounded smooth, rehearsed and condescending; Fenty combative, abrupt and disjointed.  Idon't think that this debate was much of a game-changer for either candidate, but the fact that Gray didn't get thrown by any of the questions (weak as they mostly were) might be a plus.

A.
Mike DeBonis :

I'll finish with this series of questions, which essentially ask: Who won?

I don't pick winners. But I will say that Fenty needed to place doubts in voters' minds about Gray that didn't exist before and make some attempt to address concerns about his personality. He did the latter better than the former, especially after the debate where Michelle Fenty spoke candidly.

Gray, put simply, needed not to screw up. And he didn't. He successfully parried Gray's attacks. He had a few mealy-mouthed answers, but was otherwise poised and ready for what was coming.

So I agree: A great debate, substantive and entertaining, but not a game-changer.

Thanks everyone -- hopefully they'll let me do another one of these soon.

– September 01, 2010 3:30 PM
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