Adrian Fenty loses D.C. mayoral primary: How his re-election bid failed

Mayor Adrian Fenty shortly before his spokesman said he would concede the race. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Saturday, Aug. 21, noon
Matthew Memorial Baptist Church
Ward 8 endorsement meeting

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Long story short

Seven days in August: The fall of Adrian Fenty

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“We’re going to take into consideration that we are in the house of God,” R. Joyce Scott, first vice president of the Ward 8 Democrats, sternly lectures no one in particular.

About 25 people snake their way along a back wall, waiting to cast ballots in support of their Democrat of choice. There are no disruptions of note, no voices being raised or battles being fought. Unless you count the uproar just outside the church hall’s door.

Camp Fenty is a small knoll directly across the street from the Anacostia church. Here the bold green-and-white yard signs of incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty outnumber the stale red and blue of his main challenger in the Sept. 14 primary, D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray. Closer to the church sits a black pickup truck, plastered with bright Fenty signs and stickers. On a nearby street corner, a man with a bullhorn has been tailing Gray supporters and yelling at passing cars.

“You tell me one thing Vince Gray’s done for the city, I’m gonna give you 20 things Fenty did,” he shouts.

The church parking lot, meanwhile, is staunchly Gray territory. This is a strategically prime location, as the Ward 8 voters make their way through the rocky lot to get to fellowship hall in the basement. Gray’s signs in the parking lot outnumber Fenty’s 36 to four. A few volunteers are also manning a table near the entrance. And then there’s the mouthy 12-year-old.

“Mayor Fenty fired my teacher!” blurts out the kid, who is walking through the lot.

“Don’t believe that go-go crap,” chimes in another.

A few minutes later, the 12-year-old approaches again.

“You a reporter?” asks young Jamar Hunter. “Write this down. Vincent Gray fired my teacher.”

The reporter asks the kid to clarify. Vincent Gray fired your teacher?

“No.” he says. “Fenty.”

Hunter will later declare both his fired teacher and the reporter “nice.”

Gray walks into the church hall about an hour after Scott’s initial warning, breezing right by an older man who is wearing a blue Vince Gray T-shirt over his dress shirt and a blue “vote Gray” ball cap.

The old man is Marion Barry, D.C.’s mayor for life and Ward 8’s troubled, beloved councilmember. He has not yet officially offered a real endorsement of a candidate in the mayoral primary, but he was spotted wearing a Gray sticker at a Ward 4 forum and photos of Barry in Gray gear have recently leaked to the press.

“I support Vince Gray,” says Barry. “The support and the work is more important than the endorsement.”

Gray easily wins the straw poll. Barry was right. The support, if it mattered at all, was enough. 

 


 

Gray won nearly all the straw polls in the city this summer, including Ward 8. The biggest blow to Fenty, though, came in early August, when he lost the straw poll of his home Ward 4 on Aug. 4. This was Fenty’s once-proud base, the community that vaulted him to the mayoralty. These were his neighbors.

Fenty was stomped on that summer night — falling to Gray 581 to 401. Afterward, a Fenty staffer told the Washington Post: "Don't make hay out of a straw poll." That staffer had a point. Candidates who claim victory in church halls and community center basements don’t really win anything — after all, it’s just boisterous talk and political spectacle.

So straw polls don’t really mean anything, unless they do. People listen to that talk, reporters write about that spectacle. Suddenly support is slipping. Suddenly the crowds are feistier. The conversation changes. The challenger grows confident. The incumbent is the underdog.

And just like that, fake mini-elections become real big problems.

 


 

Sunday, Aug. 22, 11:24 a.m.
Mount Moriah Baptist Church
Sunday Services

Vince Gray is late. So far he has missed two readings, a few hymns, and a prayer thanking God for another day. Gray, in a suit and yellow tie, saunters in and finds a seat in a pew close to the altar of Mount Moriah Baptist Church as the chorus sways. He joins about 50 others in this Southeast hall of worship on Capitol Hill.

He is introduced to the congregation as the council chairman, not as a mayoral candidate.

“Your presence speaks louder than words,” the Rev. Edward Hailes says.

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