Washington Post: Examining the Fenty Record

Fenty’s record, from schools to safety

Saturday, December 25, 2010; 5:40 PM


Long-standing demographic trends continued unabated during the last four years as the city gained affluent, educated and white residents and lost African Americans.

The District ended the decade with the city on the cusp of losing its status as a majority black city, though African Americans will remain the single largest group for many years to come.

Annual census estimates between 2006, the year before Mayor Adrian M. Fenty took office, and the 2010 Census show a city that grew despite the recession that hit some residents especially hard and ushered in program cuts.

In 2006, Washington had 582,000 residents who were 56 percent black, 35 percent white and 8 percent Hispanic. This year, the city surpassed 600,000 for the first time in two decades. Its residents were 53 percent black, 39 percent white and 9 percent Hispanic.

Median household incomes rose from under $52,000 in 2006 to over $59,000 in 2009, the last year for which figures are available. More residents held college degrees. Every age group older than 25 grew in size, particularly the generation aged 25 to 34, and empty nesters in their early 60s.

The changes contributed to a drop in the overall poverty rate, from 20 percent to 18 percent. But poverty among black children soared during the recession, from 31 percent in 2007 – below the national average – to 43 percent in 2009, well above the national average.

Some say the changes were driven by forces outside Fenty’s control, like the return-to-the-city movement and a recession that took a harsh toll on those workers with high school degrees or less.

"Some call it gentrification, some call it displacement," said Benjamin Orr, an analyst with the Brookings Institution. "The increased income of District residents has forced prices up, particularly housing costs. And that has pushed lower-income residents out. That effect has been disproportionately felt by African Americans in the District."

But Ed Lazere of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute said the administration did not focus on affordable housing and improving literacy among adults.

"No doubt the recession made it harder," he said. "But there wasn’t a lot of proactive response to address the trends."

– Carol Morello


Adrian M. Fenty announced the game-changing decision of his mayoralty June 12, 2007, just hours after he assumed control of the District’s public school system. He stunned the city by introducing the little-known head of a New York educational non-profit as D.C’s first chancellor.

Standardized test scores grew double-digits on the three-year Fenty-Michelle A. Rhee watch, including an average of nearly 16 points at the secondary level. But elementary scores dipped after two years of similar gains. And an analysis by ward shows that the gulf in achievement between the city’s poorest children and its most affluent remains wide. Enrollment began to edge upward after decades of decline, although it’s not clear whether the system is actually capturing a larger proportion of school-age children or merely benefiting from mini-baby booms in some neighborhoods.

Fenty and Rhee shrank the oversized system from 150 schools to 123, shuttering those with low enrollment. A top-heavy central office bureaucracy dropped from 900 to fewer than 600. With Fenty’s blessing, Rhee turned over more than half of the city’s 4,200-member teaching corps, seeding it with graduates of alternative training programs such as Teach for America, where she and Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson began their careers.

But Fenty may have placed his most enduring contribution to education in motion as the Ward 4 D.C. council member. In 2006, he led the passage of bill to set aside $1 billion in city sales tax revenue to rebuild the system’s crumbling buildings. A new agency created by the mayoral control legislation, the Office of Public Education Facilities Management, spent $500 million to modernize 23 schools. The new Hardy and Deal middle schools and Eastern and Phelps high schools, have drawn acclaim from students and parents.

Fenty recently presided over the announcement of the winning design for the new Dunbar Senior High School that is scheduled to break ground soon.

"The biggest thing happened before he became mayor," said D.C. State School Board president Ted Trabue. "It was one of the landmark pieces of legislation."

– Bill Turque


During his 2006 mayoral campaign, Adrian M. Fenty stumbled at a forum when he could not name Wall Street’s three bond-rating agencies. His opponents and critics pounced. How could voters replace Mayor Anthony A. Williams – the District’s former chief financial officer – with someone who knew so little about government finances?

The stumble didn’t stop him from getting elected. And four years later, he points to four balanced budgets, though some council members and other questioned how he did it.

Limited by a campaign promise that he would not propose new taxes and impacted by the national recession, Fenty and his administration shrank government and increased fees to fill budget gaps.

The most talked-about increases were on parking meters, rising from as low as 75 cents an hour to a maximum $2 an hour during his term. Drivers also had to pay on Saturdays and until 10 p.m. in some areas. The Fenty administration noted that District’s prices were just catching up with other big cities, like New York, but the D.C. Council refused Fenty’s proposal earlier this year to squeeze $3 an hour out of some meters.

But Fenty’s fees and council-sponsored tax increases on cigarettes, sales and gas were not enough to keep the nearly $9 billion government running. During the September Democratic primary, Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray effectively attacked Fenty’s decision to dip into the city’s $1.5 billion in reserves (from Williams’s term). In fiscal 2011, the reserves have dwindled down to $654 million.

The city’s outstanding debt rose $7.1 billion in fiscal 2010 from $5.9 billion in fiscal 2007. The debt cap also increased to 10.4 percent from 9.1 percent.

Though the Fenty administration was using the rainy day fund to soften the blow of deficits, the administration also tapped it during the high-profile, $31 million cost overrun of the Summer Youth Employment Program in 2008.

"Overall, he gets good marks," said Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). "The major criticism is the spending down of the reserves."

– Nikita Stewart

Quality of life

Spurred on by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s "get-it-done-now" leadership style, the District has built 10 new community parks, modernized 10 recreational centers, rebuilt 23 schools, added 25 playgrounds and constructed or refurbished eight new libraries.

Although many of the projects were conceived under former mayor Anthony A. Williams, Fenty pushed some neighborhood amenities to completion, such as premier turf athletic fields, the Wilson Aquatic Center in Tenleytown and the Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast.

He invested heavily in giving residents alternatives for getting around the city, including the construction of more than 25 miles of bicycle lanes, the expansion of the Circulator bus service and pushing along the proposed street car line on H Street Northeast.

But Fenty’s efforts to give District residents what referred to as "the best" came at a cost. After borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for capital improvements, the city is on course to exceed its self-imposed debt limit of 12 percent of total expenditures by 2015, according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

A Washington Post analysis found that Fenty appeared to spread the wealth equitably across the city’s eight wards. But he was dogged by criticism that he didn’t do enough to boost the quality of life of residents in the poorest neighborhoods.

Despite the national recession, the city has added 4,866 new apartment units and 5,676 condominiums since Fenty took office, according to Delta Associates, an Alexandria-based real estate and economic research firm. Ten new or refurbished grocery stores have opened, including a new Giant and Yes! Organic in Ward 8. And there are now more than 100 city businesses that serve beer, wine and spirits than there were in 2006.

In July, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine named the District the nation’s third best city, saying it’s "chock-full of job prospects, entertainment venues and great neighborhoods."

"Quite frankly, there is a buzz about the city and the region, that is very real, and it’s a good buzz," said Matt Erskine, executive director of the Greater Washington Initiative.

– Tim Craig


The District has by many measures made great strides during Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s term in trying to stem the spread of HIV and AIDS. More residents are getting tested and receiving free condoms and antiretroviral drugs. Fewer people are dying from AIDS, and fewer babies are born with HIV now than in the years before Fenty took office, according to statistics from the Department of Health.

The District’s ranking in an annual "report card" on the illness by the non-profit public policy group, D.C. Appleseed, has steadily improved under Fenty’s leadership.

The mayor gets credit for appointing highly regarded professionals such as Shannon L. Hader, the former head of the HIV/AIDS Administration – an agency that had a long history of failures before her arrival in 2007.

Despite the District’s epidemic infection rate, Appleseed’s executive director Walter Smith said the city is headed in the right direction in combating the virus. His organization was critical of Fenty, however, for not speaking out more forcefully from the bully pulpit to encourage residents to change risky behaviors.

When it comes to providing health insurance, the District has the second-highest rate of coverage for residents in the nation behind Massachusetts. Only 3.2 percent of the city’s children are uninsured – the lowest rate among children nationally.

But independent reports have shown that health care coverage has not necessarily translated into access to primary care. A study released last year by the RAND Corporation found that one in four District children covered by publicly funded insurance received care at least once in a year in an emergency room. The study also found troubling health indicators among the city’s children, such as asthma and obesity.

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the Health Committee, said Fenty deserves more credit for the city’s multi-million investment in keeping open United Medical Center, the District’s only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

"Most people don’t see it because he hasn’t really messaged his commitment to the underserved," said Catania. "But the commitment and the resources are there even in these difficult times."

– Ann E. Marimow

Economic development

The city that Adrian M. Fenty took over in 2007, was in the throes of an economic boom, one fueled by escalating real-estate values and easy financing for development projects. The city he leaves next month is amid a much different climate, one that has not only slowed business investment but also widened the city’s economic divides.

His legacy is closely bound to the economic downturn and his efforts to mitigate it.

By the city’s traditional benchmark of economic progress – real-estate deals – Fenty managed to keep development from grinding to a halt amid a dramatic credit crunch. Early in his term, Fenty’s team took advantage of the takeover of two formerly independent development authorities to quickly push deals involving public land – too quickly, some contended.

An early push to embark on a massive redevelopment of Ward 8’s Poplar Point, for instance, stalled when private investors thought the area ready for development. But Fenty presided over a groundbreaking for the long-delayed anchor hotel for the Washington Convention Center. Meanwhile, his efforts kept several large-scale projects – including redevelopments of the former D.C. General Hospital campus, the former convention center site, and the Southwest waterfront – are poised to move forward once markets improve.

But Fenty, like mayors before him, was not able to fully shift the city’s economic efforts from its traditional real-estate focus to a more holistic strategy. To Fenty’s political peril, unemployment soared among District residents even while the city’s economy added jobs by the thousands. Fenty betrayed little interest in tackling the problem of adult unemployment, spending the bulk of the city’s jobs budget on the politically popular Summer Youth Employment Program.

Fenty also found his housing policy frustrated by the economic downturn. Early in his term, the city financed thousands of affordable units through funding from taxes on real-estate transactions. But after the markets declined, so did affordable housing production. And as city budgets shrunk, Fenty put fewer resources into housing programs, such as rent supplements and assistance to tenant purchases, preferring to preserve education and public safety spending.

– Mike DeBonis

Public safety

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty appointed a police chief who is well liked and who has overseen a dramatic decrease in crime, most notably a 20 percent drop in homicides over the past four years (this is subject to change, depending on how the rest of the year plays out).

"There has been a steady decrease in crime, there haven’t been a lot of curveballs," said Chuck Wexler, chief executive of the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum. "That means something in this city."

In addition to killings, other gun crimes and violence have also decreased in the past four years.

The crime-fighting strategy of Fenty and Chief Cathy L. Lanier has been to strengthen ties in city neighborhoods so detectives can get information quickly to make arrests. The homicide closure rate is 74 percent – higher than the national average.

Under Fenty, the police department has increased the number of crime surveillance cameras across the city, extended the reach of gunshot sensor-recognition technology, computerized police reports and upgraded squad cars with laptops.

However, Fenty has been criticized for being too involved in police matters.

When 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings was killed after a confrontation with two off-duty officers in September 2007, it was Fenty who was in charge of the daily updates to the public. He also helped pay for Rawlings’s funeral, which outraged rank-and-file officers, who had said Rawlings fired first at the officers and that the city had no business extending financial help for his burial.

Fenty, Lanier and Attorney General Peter J. Nickles came up with the controversial military-style checkpoints in the troubled Trinidad neighborhood after seven men were killed in a nine-hour span, mostly in Trinidad. Residents had to show identification to get past police blockades, prompting strong backlash and several court hearings. The checkpoints were eventually declared illegal.

– Allison Klein

Kevin Wrege

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016


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