Read his lips: "No new taxes."
This bold assertion was music to the ears of the businessmen who sponsored Monday’s mayoral forum, where D.C. Council Member Adrian Fenty made his pledge.
Now read Fenty’s lips in January 2002: "I’d like to have that revenue to use for programs." That’s what Fenty said as he vehemently opposed the Tax Parity Act, which rolled back personal income taxes.
The business community took that as an indication that the young council member was a liberal and a populist, a mantle that he earned during his first term on the council.
Fenty was, for example, a staunch opponent of the new baseball stadium financed by public funds. I saw business leaders buttonhole Fenty outside council chambers and beg him to support the deal; I watched them walk away in dismay.
Which Fenty is running for mayor: the populist or the fiscal conservative?
Council Member Jack Evans, chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee, wonders about the new "no tax" pledge: "It strains credibility if that’s his position. He was against every tax reduction."
Believe it, Jack. We are watching the evolution of Adrian Fenty — from friend of the little guy to buddy of the businessman.
The first indication that Fenty’s knee had stopped jerking with every populist cause came over the recent vote to change D.C.’s rent control laws. I happened to be in Fenty’s office when the renters came by to argue their case for holding the ceiling on rents. I was there when Fenty voted for changes called for by the landlords.
Veering from the streets to the suites is a natural course for council members running for mayor. Marion Barry took that route in 1977 when he pushed business-friendly measures through the Finance and Revenue Committee — just before his first run for mayor.
Fenty was not shooting from the hip when he uttered his no-tax pledge on Monday at Arena Stage. In fact, it was a calculated proclamation, based on stands taken by other successful mayoral candidates, such as New York’s Michael Bloomberg. Fenty is also aware that the city’s chief financial officer puts out an annual spending plan based on current revenue, without new taxes.
Fenty has also been consistent in saying that the District budget contains millions in fat, and the city leaves millions in federal funds on the table every year.
Meanwhile, the businessmen seem ready to set a place for Fenty at their table.
"Everybody likes to hear ‘No New Taxes,’ " says a lobbyist for the corporate community. "I’m raising money for the guy."
You can still expect most of the corporate cash to find a home in Council Chairman Linda Cropp’s campaign. Fenty won’t turn down contributions that come his way. But he’s not banking on the businessmen.
After the forum, the other four challengers went across Maine Avenue to a reception held by the Chamber of Commerce; Fenty skipped the chitchat and went up the street to knock on doors in hopes of collecting votes rather than money.Harry Jaffe has been covering the Washington area since 1985. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.