Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Personal appeal

Q: In a remarkable reversal of fortune, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty was solidly defeated in his quest for a second term, after a landslide victory four years ago. Many voters liked the changes in the city; they just didn't like Fenty. How important is personality in the quest for success? Are good ideas and an ability to get things done enough?

In one of history's most famous contests pitting perception against reality, Richard Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election because his wan and nervous television appearance was no match for the debonair and confident John F. Kennedy. Voter perception of a candidate's personal characteristics -- personality, appearance, height, weight, eyes, voice -- often becomes a deciding factor in close races, trumping real accomplishments in favor of perceived "likeability" and trustworthiness.

Perception is the reality that every politician must address in every campaign season. The majority of voters choose candidates for largely superficial reasons -- political party or incumbency can work for or against candidates in any given season, as the highly accomplished, now-vanquished Michael Castle learned to his dismay in Delaware last week when the anti-incumbent mood of the electorate led to a Tea Party victory.

Studies show that tall people tend to win more elections than those who are shorter, and tubby people are seriously at-risk against those who spend a lot of time with personal trainers (though Governor Christie of New Jersey managed to convince voters that a fat waistline was not nearly as dangerous as the fat wallet of his opponent Jon Corzine.)

If personal fitness determined elections, then triathlete Adrian Fenty should have won by a wide margin. But demonstrating his puzzling insensitivity to wise political behavior in especially in the closing days of a hot election season, Mayor Fenty chose to spend part of the Sunday before the primary election competing in a triathlon rather than attending Church and schmoozing voters, as Vincent Gray did. This somewhat narcissistic choice revealed a lot about Fenty's problem: He keeps to a rigorous schedule, stays very fit, maintains focus on his goals, is able to multi-task and produce very effective results -- and many people dislike him for all of that.

Good politicians have a sixth sense about what people will tolerate in the leader's personal behavior. Former Mayor Marion Barry certainly has a dubious personal track record, including jail time, but he keeps winning elections because he knows that his care and concern for his constituents will cause them to overlook his foibles.

Al Gore was, in many ways, far more competent than Bill Clinton. But wooden Gore came across as more uptight than upright, while the ultra-charming Clinton was able to retain many loyal followers despite his transgressions. Gore could not work the Clinton magic, and that was the top reason for his loss in 2000.

Challenging Fenty, presumed mayor-to-be Gray started his campaign last year in what looked like an impossible position. His campaign war chest was much smaller than Mayor Fenty's, and the Fenty track record was impressive.

But Gray's personal qualities and his own quietly competent professional track record carried the day. Gray is calm and attentive, a very good listener and thoughtful in his responses. He takes care of his constituents in a very attentive way. He is very smart but does not show off. He inspires confidence and even affection among those who know him.

Engagement with people who hold different ideas, and opening the door to dialogue and debate, are critical factors for success in political life. Former Mayor Tony Williams did this very well with the higher education leadership in the city, inviting local college presidents into an ongoing dialogue, sometimes a debate, about how we could work together, and this also led to constructive engagements with the public schools.

By contrast, we presidents had little collective opportunity for dialogue with Mayor Fenty; he left local university leaders largely on the sidelines in his plans for K-12 reform, even though colleges have large stakes in K-12 improvement. At the same time, as chairman of the D.C. Council, Gray took an active interest in how higher education might work with schools, inviting universities to meetings to discuss initiatives like Pre-K teacher improvement and support for the new community college.

I look forward to working with Mayor Gray and supporting his efforts to continue educational reform at all levels in the District of Columbia.

By Patricia McGuire  |  September 20, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Making change Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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What you see depends on where you stand.

Fenty has done so much, according to the press' account of white people's feelings. However, a good number of white people supported Gray...Why? Because Fenty was not only arrogant, he was reasonably incompetent. Nonetheless, after four years, all that he could campaign on were parks and rec center improvements, crime reduction (which is happening everywhere), and Michelle Rhee. There is far more to running a city than that. What about all of the ongoing budget overruns, threats of federal agencies withholding funds, etc. Unfortunately, those who only follow DC government when its fashionable, only know of two mayors, Barry and Fenty.

Those of us who know better understand that much of what these newly interested white folks credit to Fenty, actually began with Anthony Williams (another aloof mayor, not really liked by Wards 7 and 8 but reelected) including the education plan developed by the former school "Chancellor" and adopted by Rhee.

As many black folks understand, this was much more that a black/white issue--although government should represent those governed (I hastened to think what would have been the reaction had Obama named a majority black cabinet); nor is it about a mayor who was simply disliked by some blacks, including Barry supporters--Anthony Williams overcame that issue; or, about Rhee--clearly the most polarizing figure in DC government ever--whites seem to forget they overwhelming supported Marion Barry at one juncture, or that many blacks failed to support him at a later point.

Fenty was not reelected because he made certain trash was collected, crime was down, ambulances arrived on time, snow was removed, and perceived "incompetent" people were fired--satisfying the needs of one DC community; while ignoring or simply not addressing the needs of another part of the DC community. Unfortunately, for Mr. Fenty the economy tempered, housing sales declined and the majority DC community remained black and dissatisfied with the man they put into office four years ago--yes, black folks did vote for Fenty four years ago.

Posted by: OneStop1 | September 21, 2010 9:10 AM
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"2010 DCPS
Test Scores DECLINE"

see news article, DCist website: => ========================

Look at the data, rather than the
24-7 mega-media hype manipulated,
funded & produced by the Hedge Fund boyz, Kaplan Testing corporation,
Online learning corporations,
the edu-profiteers/financiers clique
& their incompetent spokesmodel rabid Rhee (with her ludicrous lack of proven teaching or administrative experience, her lack of academic certification to be a superintendent, her lack of reasonable supervisory procedures, her lack of managerial skills, her lack of teambuilding to implement goals, her lack of community development to facilitate progress, her lack of professional tact, her lack of essential communication insight, and her abysmal lack of common sense.


Posted by: honestaction | September 20, 2010 11:44 PM
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Many black people in DC are in love with the idea of victimhood. They've been done wrong, everything is stacked against them, there's no way to get ahead. And when Adrian Fenty proves that you can succeed and get ahead and check all the boxes, they resent that.

Marion Barry telling them that they're under attack and that all their bad choices are someone else's fault--they'll eat that right up. And it really doesn't matter if the city goes to hell and if the cops are corrupt and if the schools stink, because it will always be somebody else's fault.

Posted by: mlincoln1 | September 20, 2010 10:17 PM
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These comments are very depressing.

Posted by: QuickBen | September 20, 2010 9:43 PM
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Fenty is lost because he failed to deliever on campaign promises. The city is in better financial standing due to Anthony Williams not Fenty. The district will survive without Fenty. Fenty was not reelected due to a poorly run campaign and his own arrogance. He was starting to act like a dictator and not an elected official. The people of DC have spoken now move on
Posted by: agarnett1000 | September 20, 2010 10:55 AM
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Well, at least you have the decency of giving some credit to Tony Williams who was also not liked that much by the black DC population because he was not Mariom Barry. While Fenty is accused of being arrogant, Williams was accused of being aloof and distant despite delivering results. Now both are out and a new mayor from the old school is back and all the brothers and sisters are rejoicing because Dr. Phil Good is in the house.

Posted by: eaglestrk01 | September 20, 2010 12:01 PM
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Fenty is lost because he failed to deliever on campaign promises. The city is in better financial standing due to Anthony Williams not Fenty. The district will survive without Fenty. Fenty was not reelected due to a poorly run campaign and his own arrogance. He was starting to act like a dictator and not an elected official. The people of DC have spoken now move on

Posted by: agarnett1000 | September 20, 2010 10:55 AM
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I cannot understand why DC residents constantly reward style over substance (see Marion Barry years) and the small picture over the big picture. I personally could not care less whether Fenty showed up at the right churches or kissed enough butt. Were his actions having positive results?

I also do not care if 500 mostly black teachers were fired from a failing school system, when THOUSANDS of kids were emerging from that system unprepared to compete and essentially behind the 8 ball in life. This fight is not about protecting teacher jobs, it is about providing a better eductaion for kids. At least Fenty/Rhee tried to shake things up; I am appalled by the level of resistance and personal attacks leveled at them by Gray, who was not acting in the best interest of those thousands of kids.

When you keep doing what you've been doing, you're going to keep getting what you've been getting. Good luck D.C.

Posted by: blackandgreen | September 20, 2010 10:50 AM
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A bit of a correction needs to take place. Majority White citizens like everything Mayor Fenty accomplished. African Americans had issues with the way that education reform was handled and his economic development focus. Crime did go down. But school reform results are mixed, while many black employees were fired in the name of reform, while white and asians were brought in as their replacements. The Mayor's results are very mixed when it comes to communities of color, but his attitude towards them was also clear... he wasn't concerned.

Posted by: dproctor06 | September 20, 2010 6:14 AM
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Come to think of it does anyone know if Adrain Fenty every played any competitive sport in school ( any school level, ie
did he even make Junior Varsity in high school in any sport) and how did he play and for how long?

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | September 20, 2010 4:56 AM
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President McGuire

You are entitled to your opinion but when you write in this capacity be prepared for the responses you get.

Under what political system do you want to live under? If it is ours, then take up your public responsibility as a college president and participate in making it work for "we the people.

I would like to know what you think has been done to our political system by corporate interests using the media to create a 'new forum for political discourse that only includes characters such as the likes o frenzy, crafting a physical image of himself as running, jumping following a PowerPoint list of 'to dos' much like a midlevel manager would do to get ahead.

I would like to know what kind of history department you have at Trinity that allows you to write an article such as this for citizens and readers.

What exactly are you teaching at Trinity that would make you think a little man running and jumping ( and not very well by big man or woman standards) and sticking his chin out to all residents of the city would be reelected using his body as proof positive of his credential for re-election as mayor of the nation's city.

DC did not need a city administrator and did not elect fenty to be a midlevel manager; they elected him as mayor and got what they got.

You as a college president knows it is quite true that the media will flood the airwaves with lies so often that many listeners and voters will think what is on TV are the truth.

But college presidents should know better

You and I and those that care about allowing the USA to last another 239 years need to say so.

The stakes are sky high and you can do better to turn things around in your area of responsibility.

I suggest you read Archibald McLeish's
small 42 page book called "The Irresponsibles"

(ps after you finish reading it, send a copy to gtown and cu.)

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | September 20, 2010 4:46 AM
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