- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Rarely do I agree with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, but today I will make an exception.

“I think we need to sober up and really face what’s at risk here,” Mr. Williams said in a last-ditch effort to bolster D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp’s crippled mayoral campaign.

Yet too many folks are recklessly suggesting that D.C. residents vote against their own self-interest come Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Why else would they promote the mayoral candidacy of an unproven and, quite frankly, unqualified neophyte such as Ward 4 council member Adrian M. Fenty?

Knocking on doors from sunup to sundown does not a mayor make. Running a campaign and running a government require very different skill sets. Mr. Fenty has demonstrated he is great at the former; Mrs. Cropp is great at the latter, and the more important.

“This is a lady who has great respect in Congress, great respect in the city, great respect on Wall Street,” Travelin’ Tony said in response to the Other Paper’s backhanded endorsement of Mr. Fenty. “Now how do you go from there to, ‘Let’s just throw a 90-yard bomb,’ hope for the best and go through a couple of years of mistakes with an unproven candidate?”

The Bow Tie Bandit ought to know about “hope for the best.” His learning curve was pretty painful, but at least he had managerial experience and a robust economy to mask his shortcomings.

Admittedly, I agreed with The Washington Times’ editorial endorsement of former utility executive and community patron Marie C. Johns. She is bright, and she brings innovation, experience as well as passion to the head of the mayor’s round table.

But if the choice is between the media-made front-runners, now is not the time to bet the mortgage money on a lottery ticket.

The mayor’s office is not the place for on-the-job training. With the chief financial officer predicting a stagnant economy, a forerunner of unpopular budget cuts, this city will need more than a wing and a prayer for a hopeful future.

Mr. Fenty’s popularity has a lot to do with the fact that he has not had to say “no” to anyone who asks him for anything. Those promises he passes out like lollipops are bound to come back and bite him.

Yes, there is a “chance” that the young, energetic Mr. Fenty could surprise those who think they know better, by settling down, focusing for longer than it takes to utter a pithy sound bite, put down his BlackBerry and pay attention, then miraculously metamorphosing into a financially capable leader. A slim chance.

Institutional memory is in short supply this election cycle, with more than 20 percent of the electorate having never cast a ballot in the District before. Thank Mr. Williams for the gentrification-driven change in demographics from which Mr. Fenty, not Mrs. Cropp, now benefits.

For all the gripes about Mrs. Cropp’s 26 years of solid elected service, few look beyond the headlines or the collective failures of some of those wacky legislative bodies on which she was a member.

Despite the folly of those past boards, Mrs. Cropp provided a sane and steady hand, sometimes as the lone voice of reason. She was still able to carve out cogent initiatives and legislation. She must be credited for holding the fractious D.C. Council together after the deaths of Chairmen John A. Wilson and David A. Clarke.

“She shows up, and she works,” one of her colleagues said.

With her trademark of consensus building, Mrs. Cropp transformed the council into a more powerful legislature with oversight authority, rather than the rubber-stamp body it was under Mr. Williams’ predecessors. Those former mayors include Marion Barry, who came late to endorse Mr. Fenty.

Make no mistake, the astute Mr. Barry never does anything that is not, at its crux, in his self-interest.

Should Mr. Fenty win the primary — as predicted and promoted oddly by folks who have insisted on fiscal responsibility in the past — would you rather have the next mayor beholden to Mr. Williams or Mr. Barry? The latter is now a Ward 8 council member, awaiting a choice and powerful committee position now up for grabs. Or, an experienced mayor who can, and has, said “no” to Mr. Barry’s predictable shenanigans as Mrs. Cropp has done from the dais.

“We don’t do business like that anymore,” she has said.

Mr. Fenty could not have chosen a more appropriate color to represent his campaign — green. The color (also used by Mr. Barry) denotes inexperience more than a fresh face.

Mr. Fenty, who claims “to pay attention to details,” has demonstrated just the opposite from his youthful missteps as a private lawyer to his failure to read the fine print on his own mortgage loan to his inattentiveness to follow through on populist legislation that he helped introduce.

A frustrated elected official — not Mrs. Cropp — worried about a fledgling Fenty administration told me in confidence,“We are so [in trouble].”

Indeed, Mr. Fenty gets flunking grades in Government 101. Let his record reflect that Mr. Fenty’s initial attempt to introduce the school-modernization plan by tapping into (already committed) lottery funds was nixed quickly by the city’s chief financial officer. In the end, it was Mrs. Cropp, and D.C. Council members Jack Evans and Kathy Patterson, who huddled privately to create the funding source and save the school-revitalization measure. Bothersome details?

At the height of the raging debate about financing the baseball stadium, I became disillusioned with Mr. Fenty because his opposition, while full of passion, lacked substance. I soon realized that he was out of his league when it came to making his case on the basis of knowledge of the necessary financial details.

Take a chance on a wing and a prayer? A vote for hope? Hope that the city doesn’t “bomb,” as Mr. Williams predicts, or go “Back to the [busted-budget] Future” for lack of an experienced leader at the helm? Puhleeze — “sober up.”

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