Newseum is the Forum for D.C. Mayoral Debate
WASHINGTON — The Newseum's Annenberg Theater was the venue Sept. 1 for D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his Democratic challenger Vincent C. Gray to face off in a lively one-on-one debate that could determine Washington, D.C.'s next mayor.
A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post among likely voters showed Fenty, who is running for reelection, trailing Council Chairman Gray by 17 percentage points.
The 60-minute debate was one of the last chances the candidates had to explain their platforms to voters before the Democratic primary Sept. 14. The winner of the D.C. primary traditionally has gone on to win the general election, which made the outcome of Wednesday's debate critical for both candidates.
The candidates answered questions on education, affordable housing, juvenile crime, gentrification, race, D.C. statehood and even downtown parking.
Fenty, who carried all precincts in 2006 and now considers himself an underdog, acknowledged that he has lost the support of voters who believe he doesn't care about their interests. He called their anger a "lesson learned."
"Maybe I moved too fast and wasn't inclusive enough, but I'll change it," he said.
Fenty called education one of the keys to solving the District's high unemployment rate. He said city leaders who ran the government in the early 1990s never focused on education as a solution. He defended embattled D. C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee's performance and called the opening of the D.C. schools this year "a model of excellence."
Fenty criticized Gray's management of the D.C. Department of Human Services in the 1990s and cited Gray's repeated "false allegations of cronyism" as one of the things that annoyed him about the council chairman.
Gray called Fenty's campaign an "apology tour" that was more "a change of strategy instead of a change of heart." He said as council chairman, he did not have a working relationship with Fenty, something he had as a council member with former mayor Anthony Williams.
Gray focused much of the debate on the issue of unemployment. He said getting people jobs is the solution to expanding the tax base. He called Fenty's dismissal of more than 200 public school teachers "a huge mistake" and said voters should be concerned about how the last four years have effectively served them.
"There is nothing that has been done about getting people back to work," he said.
Many voters said they were satisfied with the forum. Diane Seeger was undecided but said she is closer to making a decision after the debate.
"I was very, very glad to hear both men respond in person to the questions. I wanted to see how they presented issues and how they came across. I definitely have a better way of making up my mind," she said.
Gray supporter Lisa Raymond said she was pleased with the format.
"I have been to some that have been raucous. This was more professional. It was the right setting and a good atmosphere," she said.
The debate was moderated by The Washington Post, which streamed it live on washingtonpostlive.com. The debate will be broadcast later this evening on National Public Radio's WAMU-FM and on NBC4 Sept. 2.