Washingtonians also rejected
the establishment candidate last night, and traded in
D.C.'s current mayor, Adrian Fenty, for a guy who spent most of his professional life working on behalf of the homeless and mentally retarded. True to form in the city that John F. Kennedy said had "Southern efficiency and Northern charm
," the announcement of DC Council Chairman Vince Gray's Democratic primary win was delayed last night; a full five hours after the polls closed, only a quarter of the votes had been counted.
Gray faces no real competition in November, so is effectively the mayor-elect in a heavily African American city where Fenty was increasingly seen as arrogant, elitist, and the mayor of mostly white Northwest, more interested in sprucing up dog parks and firing black teachers than addressing widespread unemployment.
Polling by the Washington Post indicated that Fenty's lack of support among black voters was strongly tied to his head-knocking schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who made some progress in improving student test scores but will not be replacing Hillary Clinton as chief diplomat any time soon. It's not yet clear whether Gray will try to retain Rhee, who campaigned for Fenty and has strongly hinted that she wouldn't stay on if he lost.
The result didn't come as a shock to official Washington -- pre-election polls had showed Fenty losing to Gray. But the incumbent's decisive defeat was a sobering reminder that being nice
counts for something in politics, even when one has numerous accomplishments to boast about.
Fenty's prickly personality and stand-offishness turned off black voters -- and cost him even though he achieved much of what he set out to do in 2006 as the youngest mayor in four decades of home rule in the nation's capital.
Gray, 67, who if elected in the fall will be the oldest elected D.C. mayor, made nice and captured 56 percent of the vote with a campaign promising to bring the city together. "Despite our differences, I know well that Adrian Fenty shares our commitment to this city," he said in a conciliatory gesture early Wednesday, according to the Washington Post
During his tenure, Fenty hired a popular female police chief -- and crime went down. He and Rhee can also take credit for improving one of the worst public school systems in the nation. But the 39-year-old mayor constantly squabbled with the city council, even quarreling over the distribution of baseball tickets.
After storms that paralyzed the city last winter, Fenty gave a local TV anchor a famously "let-them-eat-cake" answer to the question of just when the mountains of snow might be removed. When "the temperature gets warm enough that it can melt," he said -- and at that precise moment, may have frozen the public impression that such concerns were beneath him.