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CITIZEN JOURNALISM: D.C.’s race for mayor in spotlight

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Washington is hardly a one-newspaper town. Yet while its major news organs compete by devoting considerable resources to national and foreign affairs, its other papers and blogs are shining bright lights inside City Hall.

From the 2010 mayoral race and same-sex marriage to mayoral appointments and school reform, blog sites and community papers are giving readers blow-by-blow descriptions.

Coverage of the mayor's race, which is being called the "Anybody but Fenty" contest, or ABF, is a perfect example.

All three major D.C. newspapers have reported on the war chest of incumbent Adrian M. Fenty, who already has resurrected his winning door-to-door campaign of 2006. But the Web gives their smaller competitors the ability to file regular reports that blend news and opinion.

DCWatch.com and Kathryn Pearson-West were out of the box early regarding the 2010 mayoral race. In "Anybody but Fenty - Draft Marie Johns for Mayor" on May 20, Ms. Pearson-West, a consultant and D.C. insider, declares, "I'm ABF. ... There has to be a viable candidate to run against Mayor Fenty next year."

She lays out her arguments, names D.C. Council members who could run for mayor and explains why Mrs. Johns, who ran against Mr. Fenty in 2006, would make a good candidate. "Lately the mayor seems to have epitomized arrogance and childishness and is not on top of his game," she says, "There are ongoing issues with his 'open and transparent accountable' government. ... There is scandal after scandal. Workers are being terminated for reasons that seem to be other than work performance. ... There is a [schools] chancellor whom he thinks walks on water. ... Fenty took a trip abroad paid for by a foreign government. ... He even dissed the media on this issue, and the media rarely said an unkind word about him or found any problems with his leadership. ... The mayor played immature games with the D.C. Council, withholding their Nationals' baseball tickets. ... The media is finally looking at him more objectively and scrutinizing some of his actions."

She also makes a prediction, saying Mr. Fenty "will not win every precinct in 2010 even if he is the only one running."

Since that piece ran, a few contenders have officially announced their candidacy, including former WRC-Channel 4 reporter Leo Alexander, and the names of several lawmakers have made the will-he-run list, including Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, and three of his colleagues, Kwame R. Brown, Harry Thomas Jr. and Michael A. Brown, son of the late Ron Brown, commerce secretary to former President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the Washington Business Journal led the pack last week with this breaking news: "District native and real estate mogul Donahue Peebles says he is considering running for mayor against Adrian Fenty next year."

Mr. Peebles "will either run himself or support another candidate," he told the journal, citing the theft of millions of dollars from the city's tax office and the questionable tactics for battling HIV/AIDS as examples of mismanagement.

Peebles Corp. has a real estate portfolio estimated at $4 billion and has projects in Washington and in the South, including luxury resorts in Miami Beach.

Washington City Paper, the Blade, Washington Informer, DCist.com and East of the River paper are on top of the City Hall tit-for-tat game, too. Jonetta Rose Barras, a reporter and commentator who on her own Web site, jrbarras.com, gives an insider's take on possible City Hall contracting shenanigans in the Department of Parks and Recreation and the D.C. Housing Authority. Several of her pieces point to the same complaints raised by Ms. Pearson-West and Mr. Peebles.

Contracting and procurement are oft-cited topics of any big-city administration. The nation's capital is no different.

While Marion Barry's administrations faced the heat of federal prosecutors when he was mayor, the Fenty administration faces complaints from lawmakers, lawsuits and the city's own lawyer, Attorney General Peter Nickles, who was accused of mishandling the District's 2008 gun-rights case. The most notable and recent case involves the housing and recreation agencies.

The Fenty administration chose the housing authority to contract with developers for park and recreation renovations. But housing officials failed to follow the law and present the contracts, an estimated $81.6 million worth, to the council for approval. Several of the contracts went to friends and donors of Mr. Fenty's. Mr. Nickles ruled last week that housing authorities failed to follow the law.

Mr. Nickles is drawing the spotlight for other reasons, too. He rejected a subpoena from D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols to review real estate transactions involving the Anacostia waterfront. A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Mr. Nickles to grant access earlier this month. The auditor is an investigative arm of the council and does not report to Mr. Nickles.

Also, there seems to be a running feud between Mr. Nickles and Council member Mary Cheh, who has called the Fenty administration lawless and has said Mr. Nickles should step down. For his part, Mr. Nickles has called Ms. Cheh an "angry woman."

"What struck me was Nickles' blatant sexism (which DCist picked up on)," City Paper reporter Jason Cherkis wrote Monday. "Nickles' comment that 'she's an angry woman' feels like he's channeling Mad Men. It's made all the more ironic considering that Nickles had played the race and gender card over the very topic he and Cheh are fighting about: Ximena Hartsock."

Who is Ximena Hartsock?

She is the Fenty administration parks and recreation appointee to whom the council gave a 7-5 thumbs-down confirmation vote. To poke his own thumb, the mayor named her interim department chief on Friday.

The checks and balance system is seemingly alive and well in City Hall as the run for the races draws near. Besides the run for mayor, several council seats will be in play, and chief among them are the chairman and two at-large seats.

In her DCWatch.com piece, Ms. Pearson-West not only begs the question regarding the 2010 race for mayor, but points out that it will take "one strong candidate" to beat the incumbent.

"Only one viable candidate needs to get out there to challenge the mayor and humble him before the voters," she said. "Only one strong candidate should be in the race against the mayor to be able to beat him and send him packing after the election."