- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Top union leaders said Wednesday that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty fell victim to his own politics and policies, and they are looking forward to working with Tuesday’s Democratic primary winner Vincent C. Gray, who made a lot of promises on the campaign trail regarding jobs and school reforms.

The mayor and city council learned early Wednesday morning that Democratic voters rejected Mr. Fentys bid for four more years. Mr. Gray, council chairman, led with 54 percent of the votes cast compared with Mr. Fentys 45 percent, according to preliminary results updated Wednesday.

Speaking to the media at campaign headquarters, Mr. Fenty publicly conceded defeat, which he called the “beginning of the end of a great 10-year run.”

He also faced questions regarding schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, saying she is “the ultimate decider about her own political future.”

Mr. Gray, who is easily expected to win the general election in November in the heavily Democratic city, said he already has reached out to Ms. Rhee, who conducted two rounds of teacher layoffs. He said he will make a decision about her role after “we sit down” and talk.

The citys high unemployment rate was a constant theme during the campaign, with Mr. Fenty and eventually Ms. Rhee saying they had to make hard choices on behalf of children and taxpayers. They mayor also acknowledged that he had alienated some constituencies.

Among them, political observers said Wednesday, were preachers, civil servants, teachers and union officials.

“Adrian Fenty is a great campaigner, but in his need to institute reforms his governing style alienated key constituencies,” said Charles Ellison, host of satellite radios “The New School” and politic365.com contributor. “You cant just take a stick of dynamite and blow up the bureaucracy.”

Mr. Fenty also made a major mistake by looking through a narrow lens when viewing the regions economy, Mr. Ellison said, pointing out that many of the union and nonunion members who lost city jobs live in Prince Georges County and still attend church in the city.

“Gray campaign signs were all over the county,” said Mr. Ellison, who lives in Prince George’s. “Sixty percent of African-Americans in this region go to church on Sunday. He took money out of the regional economy. He miscalculated.”

Indeed, unions began coalescing around Mr. Gray in the fall of 2009, after the first round of layoffs that left 266 teachers and other school workers unemployed. Social workers, additional teachers and other employees were laid off in 2010.

Mr. Gray used every opportunity during forums and press conferences to remind voters that the citys jobless rate has been in double digits for two years and is as high as 30 percent in one ward.

On Wednesday, at Mr. Grays post-primary news conference, union leaders said Mr. Fentys failure to seat them at the decision-making table led to his defeat at the polls.

“Mayor Fenty does not have a good record with us,” said American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage, who represents 5,000 city workers. “He abolished jobs and gave them to the private sector. He blew us off.”

Another union official leader, Josyln Williams of the Metropolitan Council of the AFL-CIO, said the Fenty administrations brand of change ultimately hurt the Fenty brand.

“Unions dont make policy,” Mr. Williams said. “Unions dont implement policy decisions. So the change was designed to scapegoat the unions.”

Mr. Gray reiterated Wednesday that jobs and school reform were his priorities, and that among his immediate concerns is trimming the $250 million spent each year on special education tuition and transportation costs. He wants to mainstream special-needs students into city classrooms.

Mr. Gray said he has not set up a transition team, but that he wants all stakeholders represented.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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