Fenty, Obama, Race, And The Economy

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JONATHAN CHAIT SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

Fenty, Obama, Race, And The Economy

Ezra Klein argues, "If you were looking to disprove the view that campaigns are primarily about how well the economy is doing and whether objective conditions are getting better or worse, you couldn't do much better than Adrian Fenty's loss last night." I'm not so sure. It's certainly true that Fenty, the now-outgoing Washington D.C. mayor, alienated key constituencies and generally ignored the politics of reelection. On the other hand, you can't dismiss the effect of the economy, either.

Consider Kevin Robillard's comparison between the Vince Gray campaign, Fenty's opponent, and the Tea Party:

A black D.C. resident told the Washington Examiner's Freeman Kloppott that the new Deanwood Recreation Center, located in heavily black Ward 7, was intended to benefit white residents. "Fenty is getting ready for white people moving into the community," she said. While a Washington Post analysis by Nikita Stewart showed the mayor spread capital projects throughout the city evenly, black residents still believe their neighborhoods are neglected.

And even though black leaders are blaming Obama for not doing enough to alleviate black unemployment, 25 percent of Tea Party members feel the Obama administration favors blacks over whites, compared to just 11 percent of the general population.

In both the cases of Obama and Fenty, you have an activist reform-minded executive who is associated with the minority racial group. Within the context of an economic crisis, it is easy for opponents to imagine that those reforms constitute redistribution from the majority racial group to the minority. That dynamic has been on display in both American politics writ large and the D.C. race. 

I've written before about the similarities between Obama and Fenty, and clearly the economy is a bigger share of the problem for the former than the latter. But the intensely bifurcated economy in Washington, I suspect, is part of Fenty's problem. In affluent, white neighborhoods, the economy is basically fine. In poor, mostly-black neighborhoods, it's a Great Depression. Surely this fact lends some weight to the widespread suspicions that Fenty is favoring whites over blacks.

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posted in: jonathan chait, washington, washington d.c., washington post, adrian fenty, ezra klein, kevin robillard, nikita stewart

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