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Fenty backs Obama for president

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D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday endorsed Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid — asking only that if elected Mr. Obama fight for congressional voting rights for the District.

"Voting rights — that's the only thing I said to him when he called me and asked for the support," said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat. "You've got to be supportive of voting rights 100 percent."

The mayor said Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, was the only presidential candidate to ask for his endorsement.

Mr. Obama said during the press conference at the King Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest he would make supporting D.C. voting rights a "high priority" of his administration.

"Washington shouldn't just be a seat of government, it should be one of the world's leading cities," he said. "In many parts of D.C., you can look down the street and see the Capitol dome and yet so many of these streets couldn't be more disconnected from our government."

Mr. Obama and Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York sponsored the D.C. voting rights bill now in the Senate.

Staffers for Democratic candidate John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, did not return a call about whether Mr. Edwards supports D.C. voting rights.

Mr. Fenty praised Mr. Obama, saying he appears committed to helping urban areas. He also plans to join Mr. Obama today at the Town Hall Education, Arts and Recreation Campus in Southeast, where Mr. Obama is expected to announce an initiative to reduce urban poverty.

Mr. Obama said he intends to focus on education in urban areas such as the District, where in many schools the majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and where high school and college graduation rates are low.

The strategy aligns sharply with Mr. Fenty's plan to take over the District's public schools, which he made his first order of business upon being sworn into office this year and accomplished last month.

Mr. Obama also said he plans to create a universal health care system and an affordable-housing trust fund.

Mr. Obama has topped all presidential candidates in fundraising so far with nearly $59 million, about $6 million more than the amount raised by Mrs. Clinton.

His campaign includes a grass-roots theme seen in Mr. Fenty's mayoral run last year, when the former D.C. Council member canvassed neighborhoods knocking on doors and collecting numerous small checks from his constituents.

A significant amount of Mr. Obama's campaign funds also have come from small-time donations of $200 or less.

Still, Mr. Obama trails Mrs. Clinton by a significant margin in the polls, which he attributes to Mrs. Clinton's high level of name recognition. He said the gap will begin to close as he campaigns in more states.

Most people in the crowd of about 50 yesterday were supportive of Mr. Obama, saying they liked his positive attitude.

"I'm a big supporter, and I believe he will get the job done," said Mary Williams of Southwest. "I think the same issues that we share here in the community, he's going to bring them to the forefront."

Some others liked Mr. Obama's message but are waiting to hear more.

"In politics, I'm reserved because I know they're just trying to get their votes right now," said Greg Turner of Southwest. "I'm leaning toward [Mr. Obama], but I have to go with whoever makes the best representation on the issues."

Mr. Fenty's endorsement ends speculation that he was waiting for New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent, to declare his candidacy for the presidential race.

Mr. Fenty is an admirer of Mr. Bloomberg and modeled his schools-takeover plan after a similar move made by Mr. Bloomberg.

n Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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