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Washington’s mayor-to-be, Vince Gray, and his predecessor, Mayor Adrian Fenty, are a contrast of styles. In the broad strokes of political caricature, Fenty comes across as the go-it-alone chief executive, while Gray is the consensus-seeking team leader. And that’s a posture some say will ease the incoming mayor’s dealings with Congress.
“Adrian Fenty is a hard-charging executive, and it’s difficult to take that kind of attitude and apply it to a deliberative body like Congress,” said Mike Panetta, the political consultant who serves as Washington’s shadow representative, a position created by the D.C. government. “Vincent Gray is a much more collaborative leader ... and I think Congress plays well to his governing style.”
Of course, if Democrats lose their majority in either or both chambers in November, Congress will be far more hostile territory for Gray. Washington’s laws allowing same-sex marriage and controlling guns — not to mention its overwhelming Democratic majority — have long irked Republicans.
But no matter which party controls Congress, Gray’s softer leadership touch and existing relationships on Capitol Hill are expected to serve him well.
Any mayor’s first point of contact with Congress is Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative. Norton’s relationship with Fenty was never close — one source called it “strained” — but she and Gray are considered close allies.
Gray and Norton have known one another for decades; Norton graduated from Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington a few years ahead of Gray. The two have met regularly since Gray became chairman of the D.C. Council, often for friendly lunches.
Norton declined to endorse either man during the sometimes-bitter mayoral race — she noted that she would have to work with one of them after the votes were cast — but Norton and Gray clearly share a level of trust.
Norton said she expects Gray’s more ingratiating persona will go over better in Congress.
“He’s going to have an excellent relationship with Congress, because first of all, he’s very sophisticated, and he’s wonderfully flexible,” she said.
Fenty should have cultivated closer partnerships on Capitol Hill that might have paid off at crucial moments, Norton said. “He had cordial relationships, but he wasn’t up here as much as he could have been.”
For example, when an amendment gutting D.C’s gun laws effectively sank legislation giving D.C. long-sought voting rights last April, Fenty took a hands-off approach. “He wasn’t here,” she said.