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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fenty's approval in D.C. divided by race

Recent polls show a sharp contrast between black and white voters' approval of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's job performance, with the majority of blacks disapproving, suggesting that racial tensions remain beneath the District's liberal veneer.

Local political observers say that Mr. Fenty's style and approach to governance, and his priorities on cultural issues, play less well with black residents, who traditionally see city government as helping them and view Mr. Fenty as a failure on those grounds.

"I think black people look at government as the entity that intervenes on behalf of those who have frequently been disadvantaged," said Howard University associate professor Greg Carr, who chairs the school's Afro-American Studies department. "To them, [Mr. Fenty] represents the elites, those who already have power."

In the most recent poll of 501 D.C. voters, conducted by Clarus Research Group this month, only 22 percent of black respondents said they want Mr. Fenty re-elected, and 71 percent said they would want someone else. Among whites, 51 percent said they would support Mr. Fenty for a second term, while 32 percent would not.

A September poll of 500 voters, conducted by SurveyUSA for WJLA-TV (Channel 7), also showed a pronounced split between black and white voters, with 69 percent of black voters disapproving of Mr. Fenty, compared with just 24 percent of white voters.

Some longtime D.C. residents contrast Mr. Fenty's style of governing to that former Mayor Marion Barry, who served four terms as mayor and is in his secondterm as a council member despite a past that included jail time.

Mr. Barry, now the Ward 8 D.C. Council member, is credited with opening stable, government jobs to black residents while maintaining his appeal to whites. He also created the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, for which its mostly black alumni frequently thank Mr. Barry when he's in public.

Civil rights activist and D.C. resident Lawrence Guyot criticized Mr. Fenty's approach to certain social issues, saying he has taken a "post-racial" approach and cut "racial preference" out of policy decisions, which has worked to Mr. Fenty's detriment.

"He has taken on a number of issues that are dear to black people and acted as though he was unaware of the history. If he was aware of it, he completely disregarded it," Mr. Guyot said.

He offered Mr. Fenty's approach to the same-sex marriage debate as an example, saying the mayor did not try to persuade black churches on the issue, instead saying simply that he would sign the bill. Black churches and their congregations generally oppose same-sex marriage and are particularly offended by the comparisons that the unions' backers such as Mr. Fenty make to the civil rights movement.

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