City on a Hill: Fenty: Modern day Marion?

August 28, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is in trouble. An Examiner poll in early August found that only 30 percent of Washingtonians would definitely vote for him, and his attorney general and right-hand man Peter Nickles is under fire for missing evidence in the Pershing Park case. The only break the embattled mayor has had is the arrest of political enemy and former mayor Marion Barry for stalking.

Fenty may have enjoyed Barry’s temporary weakness, but he should use Barry as a cautionary tale: between dropping poll numbers and troubled associates, Barry’s humiliating past could become Fenty’s present.
Fenty and Barry both took office after ineffectual mayors who supported the status quo. Both became increasingly unilateral as their agendas were frustrated by Council and institutional inertia, and both have been embarrassed by the actions of subordinates. In Barry’s case, it was Ivanhoe Donaldson, a friend imprisoned for fraud. For Fenty, it is Nickles.

Nickles is caught up in a lawsuit over the arrest of protesters at Pershing Park in 2002. Minutes from police recordings that were requested during the trial have gone missing, suggesting some interference with evidence. This has brought councilmembers like Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) into open revolt against Nickles.

“I think the Attorney General is in a mess,” Mendelson said. “It’s embarrassing to the city.”

Mendelson said Nickles never should have been appointed, but stressed that Nickles’s lapse in this case had to due with the court case, not his duties as Attorney General.

Fenty’s worst scandals, unlike Barry’s, will involve what schools his children go to instead of what drugs he smokes. But while Fenty attacks Barry (he evicted Barry’s estranged wife from a tennis center she founded) he should take care to avoid Barry’s political fate.

Contact Will at if you want to tamper with his evidence.

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