A Last Political Parade at Adams Morgan Day
People say the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington is a place where you can find just about everybody – young, old, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, straight, gay, and maybe even Mars people.
Usually they all gather for the annual Adams Morgan Day Festival in September to celebrate the neighborhood’s diversity. This year it was election year, and Sunday’s festival became a staging ground for political theater on all levels.
Sunday, Mayor Adrian Fenty and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, facing a down-to-the-wire battle for the mayoral ticket, both showed up around the same time and in roughly the same place, although they didn’t actually come close enough to bump fists. Their appearances, nearly two hours each, overlapped, and in just less than two days before the election showed off the contrasts in style and approach of the two protagonists of what has become an intense political drama throughout the city.
These weren’t the normally huge crowds you can expect on Adams Morgan Day — it rained throughout the night and sporadic showers had been occurring. Yet there were plenty of voting targets on the move still. At mid-afternoon, there was Mayor Fenty near the gateway to the festival, shaking hands, grabbing photo ops, getting his picture taken with locals, giving “thumbs-up” victory signs, talking policy, answering questions, speaking with residents and media types alike. He was fit, tanned, ready-for-business, repeating his most recent campaign mantra about all the things Gray wouldn’t talk about, about having to make tough decisions, about moving the city forward.
Fenty appeared tireless, and you would never have guessed that he’d just competed in a triathlon that morning. In the home stretch, with early voting and same day registration, nobody was making a real prediction about the outcome, although the most recent poll of two weeks ago showing Gray with a double-digit lead was still echoing loudly.
“There are still people around who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of schools not working,” he told one reporter. “That’s not this administration. We moved forward, and you’re going to get some folks angry, you’re going to get opposition.”
Given the perception that the city is deeply divided along racial and economic lines, he was asked if he might consider resurrecting former Mayor Anthony Williams’ Citizen Summits, which brought all parts of the city together to participate in planning. “Well, I don’t know if we’ll go precisely in that direction,” he said. “But we’re looking at listening tours, at things that will get people involved that will make them feel as if we’re listening, that they’re more engaged with the process.
He declined to offer details. “We’re totally focused on these last days now,” he said. Then he waded into the crowd, toward the mini-donut vendor, but apparently resisted the temptation.
Fenty’s green signs and Gray’s blue signs bobbed along the aromatic festival route from Columbia Road to Florida Avenue. While there had been reports of angry verbal clashes elsewhere, none occurred here. At Madam’s Organ, the popular 18th Street blues and rock club, Gray supporters had parked themselves on a second story balcony, shouting slogans en masse. On that afternoon, the place really was a house of blues.
Further down the route, with Fenty still in the house, Gray made his appearance in the festival, surging forward toward Columbia Road in what looked like a New Orleans-style march, without the actual music. It was slow going. While Fenty’s approach is to somehow touch as many people as possible in a kind of political speed dating, Gray can go through a crowd, catch up with old friends, build new lifetime friendships, and explain in detail his approach to schools or economic development.
It made for vivid, immediate contrast that spoke to the personalities of the two men and their style of doing things, which has become as much a campaign issue as buying votes (accusations on both sides), Gray’s record at DHS, Michelle Rhee, cronyism charges and so on.
Other candidates were here in Ward One, including Bryan Weaver, setting up a basketball booth, and Jeff Smith, challengers to Jim Graham, who was running for re-election here and well ahead in the polls. There was at Large Candidate David Catania, and a local ANC Commissioner, and somebody to sing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” near a karaoke bar.
And there was the dog shooting, which occurred in the early afternoon, and was the subject of a lot of talk along the route. There were a lot of different versions of this incident to be had — most people described the dog as a pit bull, for instance, and the police was attacking people in the crowd. But many people were shocked that the dog was shot in the middle of a large crowd. The dog’s owner, a Dupont Circle resident who had been fostering the dog while it awaited adoption, said he would file a complaint.