Lessons For Obama In Fenty’s Fall?

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[National: Comment]

In September 2006 the headline of The Washington Post read “Fenty Prevails in Mayor's Race.”


The Ward 4 Council member defeated Council chair Linda Cropp in the democratic primary 57% to 31%; winning all eight wards and every precinct in the District.

A year later Adrian M. Fenty like former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., Anthony Brown, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, and the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker was being compared with then Senator Obama as a new generation of African American political leadership. These individuals have been credited with running a new type of campaign, not limiting themselves to Black districts – running “race neutral” campaigns.

Almost four years to the day later the headline of the Washington Post reads “Gray defeats Fenty in mayoral primary.” Elections are a combination of candidates, issues, and personalities. When a candidate’s personality becomes the issue there’s a problem for that candidate.

As late as January 2010 the Washington Post wrote, “Nine months before the Democratic primary, Fenty (D) has no widely known or well-funded challengers, even as recent polls have shown his popularity declining.” Others (such as Vincent Gray) at that time were thinking about running but any challenger would, “be hard-pressed to match the $3 million that Fenty has raised toward his bid for a second term.” Council Chairman Vincent Gray did not enter the race until March and was able to raise the money and garner enough support to defeat the incumbent Mayor with almost $4.5 million in his war chest to Gray’s $1.3 million.

Second only to Sen. Barack Obama’s defeat of Sen. Hillary Clinton, Fenty’s defeat has to be one of if not the most significant turnarounds of political misfortune in recent history. Within the span of seven months, Fenty went from being the unopposed incumbent Mayor of the District of Columbia to loosing the democratic primary. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Are there parallels to be drawn between Fenty’s loss and President Obama’s struggles? They may have some similar problems but for different reasons. Both Fenty and President Obama have run into problems with their base of support. Fenty with African American voters in the District and the president with progressives and independent voters. The deracial nature of their politics is not the basis of their problems.

Polls indicated a real disconnect between the perception of accomplishment in the District and Fenty’s personality. According to the Washington Post, “Although most of those Democrats polled credit the mayor with a record of accomplishment and say he brought needed change to the District, many doubt his honesty, his willingness to listen to different points of view and his ability to understand their problems. The criticisms are especially deep-seated among African Americans, who are likely to make up a majority of primary voters.”

Fenty’s fall was based upon a personal failing that manifested itself in his inability to retain the trust of the voters in the District.

President Obama faces different circumstances. He has been overcome by an economic recession that has made it very difficult for him to stay on message. The Rasmussen Reports that forty-one percent of the nation's voters "Strongly Disapprove" of the presidents performance, giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating of -12. He also faces a Republican Party that has decided to oppose him at every turn; trying to be bipartisan in an obstructionist environment. There are also those who question if the progressive politics that he ran on were actually his politics.

Both Mayor Fenty and President Obama are having problems maintaining the support of their base. Fenty lost the support of the African American’s in the District not because of the deracialized nature of his politics but because of his arrogance, lapses is judgment and his attempts to push initiatives through without getting buy-in from his supporters. President Obama is loosing his base because progressives and independents don’t feel he has championed their causes and fought hard enough against conservative recalcitrance in Congress. They still like him as a person but question his ability to lead, fight, and defend the principles of the left.

Black Star News columnist Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer and Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon

© 2010 InfoWave Communications, LLC.

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