The Nation's Capital Gets a New Mayor
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has a new mayor-elect. Adrian Fenty is 35, the city's youngest mayor on record. He will soon take charge of a city very different from the monuments and museums that visitors tend to see. It's a city with problems from crime to troubled schools.
NPR's Libby Lewis listened in as the mayor-elect searched for answers.
LIBBY LEWIS: Adrian Fenty is sitting in a crowded conference room with two-dozen volunteers. They're plying him with ideas to fix ailing schools, dampen crime, clean the air. The voices are black, white, Latino, and Asian-American, like Jenny Chupose(ph).
Ms. JENNY CHUPOSE (Washington, D.C. Resident): Make the Asian Lunar New Year a day off, commemoration in the District of Columbia.
LEWIS: Fenty is lapping it up.
Mr. ADRIAN FENTY (Mayor-Elect, Washington, D.C.): There's a new, energetic, engaged, active, hungry population and citizenry here in the District of Columbia that's eager to come and help our D.C. government become the best we can be.
LEWIS: As Fenty is leading the brainfest, his aide Neil Richardson shows Fenty a blueprint of his new offices.
Mr. FENTY: You like this one the best...
Mr. NEIL RICHARDSON (Aide to Mayor-Elect Fenty): I like this one the best because you can actually be in the center, and then you've got all the people - this will be your desk right there...
Mr. FENTY: Oh, this is a desk?
Mr. RICHARDSON: Yeah.
Mr. FENTY: Right here (unintelligible) oh, that looks good.
LEWIS: The current mayor, Anthony Williams, has helped put the city on the solid financial keel. But his reputation is one of helping the city's haves more than the have-nots. Fenty says he wants to do both. He's down-home and a techie. He run his primary campaign the old fashion way, by knocking on doors. He figures between 25,000 to 30,000. He uses two BlackBerries to stay in touch with constituents. He used open Web logs, or blogs, to solicit ideas from residents and get feedback on his ideas.
His visits to mayors in New York, Chicago, Boston and other big cities fired him up more. He's leaning towards taking over the city's poor performing schools, as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg did. That has endeared him to some residents here. Barbara Reel(ph) showed up at a Fenty event to tell him he should focus on the positive.
Ms. BARBARA REEL (Washington, D.C. Resident): It doesn't help for the mayor to say everything is terrible in our schools so I have to take them over.
LEWIS: Fenty went to D.C. public schools before getting degrees at Oberlin and at Howard University Law School. He and his wife plan to send their twin sons to D.C. public schools. He plans to do a lot as mayor. He's a triathlete, a marathoner, and he exudes that. His mantra...
Mr. FENTY: To make this city a world-class city in every respect.
LEWIS: Outside D.C., some of his fellow big-city mayors say Adrian Fenty is a symbol of a deeper impulse going on in America's cities. One of them is Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco.
Mayor GAVIN NEWSOM (Democrat, San Francisco): Fundamentally, what you're seeing increasingly is a real sea change as relates to the position of mayor across the country.
LEWIS: Newsom said more big city mayors are tackling the issues that used to be the province of the states and the federal government - raising the minimum wage, encouraging affordable housing, creating universal healthcare. Newsom said he gave Adrian Fenty the same pep talk he gave Newark mayor Cory Booker.
Mayor NEWSOM: You don't have to wait for the states, and you don't have to wait for the federal government, because if you do, wait will mean never.
LEWIS: Cory Booker said he discovered the new generation of mayors when he first got elected. They pummeled him with ideas.
Mayor CORY BOOKER (Democrat, Newark): And they were Republicans and Democrats who really were much more about how to move urban America forward than they weren't about anything partisan. And so for me I felt fortunate. I felt like I entered a club of people that are about public service first, party second.
LEWIS: Adrian Fenty wants to be a member of that club.
Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.