Friday, April 11, 2008

A $2 million ad campaign promoting D.C. tourism that includes Mayor Adrian M. Fenty wearing a shirt with the logo for his parents’ store has divided city lawmakers, business executives and residents about whether the mayor used poor judgment or even violated District code.

“The [store] doesn’t need Mayor Fenty’s help,” Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said of the Fenty family’s Fleet Feet running store. The store made $4,000 in political contributions to Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, since 2000, according to the city’s Office of Campaign Finance.

The nationwide campaign was announced last week by the District and features a print ad with the athletic, 37-year-old mayor jogging through Rock Creek Park.

The issue caught fire in the blogosphere early this week after the D.C. Republican Committee issued a press release, prompted by questions from The Washington Times. The release, which eventually was posted on at least three blogs, garnered dozens of emotional — and humorous — responses.

“This is kind of in bad taste for Fenty, and borderline unethical, if not flat out illegal,” said one blog viewer. “But really, in the annals of D.C. corruption, this isn’t even a footnote.”

Said another: “Hold it! There are Republicans in D.C., let alone enough to make up a committee?”

The advertising campaign is being run by Destination DC, formerly known as the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., and features five print ads, online advertising and two TV commercials. The campaign runs through September and encourages visitors to create their own “Power Trip” by exploring a variety of D.C. sites.

Mr. Fenty appears in the print ad with the slogan “Power Play,” which attempts to appeal to fitness enthusiasts. He is jogging with Chuck Brodsky, founder of the Nation’s Triathlon.

“Fenty’s energy and enthusiastic support for this city makes him an excellent spokesperson for the campaign, and his well known passion for running made him a great choice for this particular ad concept,” said Bill Hanbury, chief executive officer for Destination DC, “Because authenticity is important to us, we asked Fenty and Brodsky to choose their own clothing that they would typically wear on a run.”

Mr. Fenty deferred a reporter’s question to his communications department, which issued the following statement: “The mayor was asked to wear his running gear …and he accommodated that request.”

Two-thirds of the money for the campaign is the city’s hotel occupancy tax, and the rest is from private partnerships and revenue from the city’s roughly $564 million annual tourism industry.

“The mayor’s lack of better judgment in promoting his family’s business with taxpayer funded ads is unethical and in bad taste,” said D.C. Republican Committee Chairman Robert J. Kabel. “He should remove himself from all the ads to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

The City Council’s Committee on Economic Development has oversight on the tourism budget but does not review the advertising content, said LaToya Foye, deputy chief of staff for committee Chairman Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Brown said he has no problem with Mr. Fenty wearing the shirt and that he would have worn one featuring Ben’s Chili Bowl.

A clause in the city’s personnel manual states: “employees cannot use government time or resources for other than official business, or government approved or sponsored activities.”

Dorothy Brizill, of the political watchdog group and a Fenty critic, said she plans to look further into District employee conduct codes and personnel regulations and write to the city’s D.C. campaign finance office, which enforces the conduct code.

“I believe the ad is a violation of the spirit of the letter and spirit of the law governing conflict of interest and code of conduct,” she said. “Fleet Feet is a Fenty-family owned-and-operated business. The advertisement is not only being shown nationally as well as regionally, it is a commercial ad for business that would benefit the Fenty family. It is an ad run under the auspices of the D.C. government. I can’t think of any elected official that has so blatantly promoted a private commercial venture by using their official position.”

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