Fenty, Adrian M.

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Adrian M. Fenty


Political leader

Elected mayor of Washington, D.C., in 2006, 36-year-old Adrian Fenty became the youngest individual ever to assume that post. With youth came energy, and Fenty was elected partly on the basis of his strong record of constituent services as a District of Columbia city council representative; residents of his district would sometimes say that Fenty would repair potholes or broken streetlights himself before city repair crews could get to them. Fenty himself, in a Washington Post profile, named endurance as his most distinctive characteristic, and political observers in Washington drew parallels between the mayor's political style and his athletic hobby—he is an enthusiastic distance runner who has completed several marathon races and has set his sights on the still more grueling Ironman triathlon event.

Motivated to Succeed

Adrian M. Fenty was a Washington native, born on December 6, 1970. He is biracial, with a black father and a white mother, and he told Marc Fisher of the Washington Post that this background gave him an advantage in a city whose politics were frequently split along racial lines. "I certainly don't think about it a lot," he said, referring to race, and he asserted that "there's no question [his background] gives me a tolerance and an appreciation for the views of everyone." His enthusiasm for distance running—and his concern for the problems of small businesses in Washington—was related to his family background; his father, Phil, operated a athletic-shoe store called Fleet Feet in the city's Adams Morgan neighborhood, while his mother, Jan, taught school.

Fenty attended Mackin Catholic High School in Northwest Washington, where he ran track and finished his first two marathons. "He's very determined. He won't stop. He won't quit," friend Roger Reddock told Clarence Williams of the Washington Times. "He's got great stamina." At Oberlin College Fenty majored in English and economics, graduating in 1992. His ambition impressed classmate Earl C. Horton III, who told Williams that "[t]he one thing I was sure about was he has the motivation and the hustle. If you ever look at his eyes…he has that look on his face." The temptations facing young African-American men in Washington were no challenge. When a college friend suggested they could make money dealing drugs on the side, he recalled to Vanessa Williams of the Washington Post, "I remember thinking, ‘What would my dad think if I got caught doing something like that?’ What a letdown something like that would be for him." Fenty served as an intern for Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum and later worked in the offices of Massachusetts congressional representative Joseph P. Kennedy II and of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting representative in the United States Congress.

Fenty went on to Howard University in Washington, earning his law degree and passing the District bar exam in 1996. He married a Howard classmate, and he and his wife Michelle, an international attorney, have twin sons, Matthew and Andrew. In the late 1990s, Fenty practiced probate law in Washington and was given business by the city, working on cases connected with individuals who were wards of the city. In one instance, he was charged with mishandling the affairs of an elderly Washingtonian, failing to file documents and monitor the man's finances properly. Fenty owned up to his errors and repaid the losses to the individual that had resulted. "I learned you have to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i,’ because one little thing can lead to a big problem," he told Williams. "I learned to show the type of attention to detail to make sure that never happens again."

Involved Himself in Community

Serving as lead attorney for the city council's Education, Libraries, and Recreation committee, Fenty became more and more involved in community affairs. He served as president of the 16th Street Neighborhood Civic Association and on a neighborhood commission in Ward 4, on the city's northern edge. "I saw that was what gave him passion," says Michelle Fenty told Williams. "He was the happiest when he was on the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission]. He would come home very excited about having talked to all of these people and how he was going to help them with their problems." In 2000 he challenged Charlene Drew Jarvis, a 21-year officeholder, for her seat on the District's city council. With his shaved head, he was sometimes likened in appearance to professional basketball star Kobe Bryant. Energetically knocking on doors, he emerged victorious in the September 12, 2000, Democratic primary by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. An indication of his efforts was that voter turnout in Ward 4 was higher than anywhere else in the city. In overwhelmingly Democratic Washington, he cruised to victory in the November general election.

As a D.C. city councilman, Fenty earned a formidable reputation for paying attention to the welfare of his constituents. When touring his ward, he drove his city car rather than delegating the job to staffers, impatiently insisting that he knew local streets better than anyone else. Reelected in 2004, Fenty made few friends on the council. Members were annoyed at his habit of sending messages on his BlackBerry personal message device during meetings, and few supported him when, in 2005, he announced his candidacy for the post of mayor. But his Washington neighborhood overflowed with stories of city services delivered and on-the-ground police help in the crime-plagued area, and his 2006 primary campaign against council chair Linda Cropp gained momentum.

"You can't use my name, 'cause I'm expected to support Linda," one city employee told the Washington Post's Fisher, "but let me tell you this: My mother's block was getting real bad. The dealers were thick, corner to corner. I couldn't get the police to pay attention to it. Finally, we call Adrian. That same week, the cops flood the block and stay on it till the dealers abandon the place. See, I have to vote for Adrian." American University professor Brett Williams told Steve Goldstein of the Philadelphia Inquirer that Fenty had helped arrange for her water service to be restored, and that his staff, thinking that she might be in financial trouble, had sent Thanksgiving turkeys to her home. Cropp brought up Fenty's probate-law misdeed and portrayed him as inexperienced and as a micromanager. "I cherish being called too responsive," Fenty retorted, in conversation with Ian Urbina of the New York Times, taking credit for improvements in his ward's long-spotty city services.

Fenty favored an ultimately successful measure, opposed by Washington's food-service industry, that would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Though the city's political and business interests, including Mayor Anthony Williams, mostly lined up behind Cropp, Fenty touted his experience in his family's small business and presented himself as an advocate of the working poor. He picked up an endorsement from the city's populist former mayor, Marion Barry, and in the Democratic primary held on September 12, 2006, he trounced Cropp by a margin of about 57 to 31 percent.

At a Glance …

Born on December 6, 1970, in Washington, DC; married Michelle (an international finance attorney); children: Matthew, Andrew. Education: Graduated from Mackin Catholic High School, Washington; graduated with double major in English and economics, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, 1992; Juris Doctorate degree, Howard University Law School, Washington, DC, 1996. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Served several political internships; Washington, DC, lawyer, late 1990s; 16th Street Neighborhood Civic Association, president, late 1990s; Washington, DC, city council, Ward 4 representative, 2000; reelected 2004; Washington, DC, mayor, 2006-.


Office—Office of the Mayor, John A. Wilson Bldg., 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20004. Web—http://dc.gov/mayor/index.shtm.

An overwhelming victor in the November 7 general election, Fenty had already begun to implement his high-tech governing style with a "Webinar" or web-based seminar gathering input from advisors and city residents via e-mail, Web logs (or blogs), and Internet chat rooms. Fenty hit the ground running in January of 2007 with an ambitious list of 200 measures his administration planned to take during the first 100 days of his administration. His most widely reported action early in his term was an attempt to take over Washington's troubled public schools, removing many responsibilities from the city's board of education and placing them with a chancellor who would report to the mayor and city council. As of March, 2007, the plan seemed headed for council approval.



Carroll's Municipal Directory, Carroll Publishing, 2006.


New York Times, September 14, 2006, p. A24.

Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 2006.

Washington Business Journal, September 22, 2000, p. 17.

Washington Post, January 6, 2005; August 24, 2006, p. B1; August 31, 2006, p. C1.

Washington Times, March 31, 2000, p. 4; September 14, 2000, p. 1; September 15, 2000, p. 4; June 6, 2005, p. B1; September 13, 2006, p. A1; November 7, 2006, p. B1; November 8, 2006, p. B3; January 5, 2007, p. A17; January 12, 2007, p. B1; February 11, 2007, p. C11; February 28, 2007, p. B1; March 19, 2007, p. C12.


"Adrian Fenty," Biography Resource Center,http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (March 22, 2007).

"Biography: Adrian M. Fenty," Office of the Mayor, District of Columbia,http://dc.gov/mayor/bios/fenty.shtm (March 22, 2007).

                                                             —James M. Manheim

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