With the Sept.14 primary just weeks away, the fundraising efforts of incumbent Adrian Fenty and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray say a lot about where the contentious race could be headed. Added to that, according to a new citywide poll, Gray has gained a lead over his chief opponent – Leo Alexander is running a distant third – by 8 percentage points.
When Fenty launched his campaign last year he boasted a war chest of about $1 million to help offset expenses in what has been termed one of the most – if not the most expensive mayoral contests in the city’s history. But while Fenty’s supporters continue making donations, in the past two months they haven’t kept pace with Gray’s donors. Records on file with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that between June and July, Gray raised $708,000 from 2,265 donors – most of them grass roots activists – compared to the $308,000 Fenty gleaned from 599 supporters. Most of the Mayor’s donors have been government workers, private individuals, and a slew of contractors and developers who’ve all fallen within the $2,000 cap set for mayoral campaign donations.
“Large donors tend to give to the incumbent,” said David Bositis, senior analyst at the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies in Washington, about Fenty’s donors. “In many respects, Fenty is the stronger candidate.”
But Gray is proving to be a worthy opponent, supporters said.
“I think all the donations show Vincent’s message is really resonating with District residents,” Gray’s campaign manager, Adam Rubinson, told the AFRO. “The success story is not only the total of dollars that we’ve raised, but also the number of donors.”
Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell acknowledged that volunteers working on Gray’s campaign remain energized and that “more and more people” are expressing their support as campaigners. However, he was quick to point out that despite Gray’s recent financial gains, he has yet to take an official lead over Fenty.
“In the last two campaign reporting periods, Gray raised more money, but still the mayor is much further ahead in total money raised,” Pannell said. Overall, Fenty has raised close to $5 million compared to $1.3 million pulled in by Gray’s camp, and as of the end of last week, Fenty still had about $1.9 million on hand while Gray’s coffers hovered around $700,000.
Pannell said the campaign is the city’s most expensive. “To raise $5 million for a mayor’s race is unheard of,” Pannell said. “There are places in the country where people running for governor and the senate have that kind of money. It’s really amazing the amount of money the mayor has raised.”
OFC spokesman Wesley Williams said the office has never taken a “scientific look” at the donations and what they mean in terms of which candidate raised the most money.
“I guess any contributions would depend more so on the enthusiasm the public would have for the candidates as far as wanting to support them,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, as the race heats up, the gloves have also been coming off, with Gray’s team accusing Fenty of resorting to negative politics.
Rubinson alluded to the$1.8 million Fenty shelled out between June and July in two 30-second TV commercials that paint Gray as inefficient, citing his record while running the Department of Human Services in the 1990s.
According to Gray’s team, the negative ads are a sign of Fenty’s desperation.
” absolutely acts of desperation. He’s doing that because it’s all he has left to do,” Rubinson said. “Everywhere Fenty goes he’s being booed and it’s been very hard for him to attract real volunteers.”
Rubinson also harped on Fenty’s recent losses. “He’s losing all the straw polls and he’s losing endorsements,” he said. “But I think what was really shocking to him is that he lost the straw poll right in his own backyard.”
The AFRO contacted Fenty’s campaign for comment but did not receive a response by press time.
Fenty, however, has publicly conceded being out of touch with residents.
“The obvious thing about me, I focus so hard on just going 100 miles per hour, just getting things done,” Fenty said in a recent statement in the Washington City Paper. He apologized for being a poor communicator and vowed to do better. “As mayor, I didn’t make the adjustment I should have . I haven’t done a good job communicating and including people.”