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Fenty vs. Jarvis shapes up as hot council race

(Published August 14, 2000)


Staff Writer

Neighbors at a block party thrown by the 16th Street Neighborhood Association got a pair of unannounced visitors to their soiree on Aug. 5. Councilwoman Charlene D. Jarvis, D-Ward 4, and Mayor Anthony A. Williams made an unscheduled stop at the shindig, which came as a surprise to one of the hosts Ė association president Adrian Fenty.

Jarvis and Williams made the unscheduled stop to campaign on behalf of the council member in her bid to get elected for a sixth full term and chose to stump in her opponentís back yard. In the hotly contested primary race for the council seat, every vote counts and neither candidate is taking votes for granted.

Fenty and Jarvis, both D.C. natives, are locked in a pitched battle for the Democratic nomination for the wardís council seat. The race, which is shaping up to be the closest contest in the Districtís Sept. 12 party primary elections, pits one of the cityís consummate insiders against a political newcomer with strong grass-roots support.

Jarvis, 53, the chairman of the councilís powerful Committee on Economic Development, is the longest-serving member on the council. She was elected to the council in 1979 and served briefly as acting council chairman in 1998 following the death of then-chairman David Clarke. She is also president of Southeastern University. Jarvis has been touting her experience on the council and clout with real estate developers in the city as a means of revitalizing the ward.

"We really are in the midst of recovery and we held on through those distressing Ď90s to actually see the city turn around," she said. "And it looks like I will be able to leave the kind of legacy Iíd hoped for when I first came into public office."

Fenty, 29, served as a legislative aide to the councilís Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation for two years under Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, and is also an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Petworth as well as president of the 16th Street

(See RACE, page 9)

Neighborhood Association.

A drive through the ward shows what kind of campaign Fenty is running against the incumbent. His green campaign posters are staked in front lawns throughout the neighborhoods, sometimes lining both sides of the street. Fenty said he and his campaigners have been going door-to-door since spring and have placed more than 1,500 signs in peopleís yards.

Fenty has been hammering on a widely held perception that Jarvis has done well for downtown but not for the ward.

"You got to believe that Georgia Avenue does not always have to look like that," Fenty said. "You got to believe that Ward 4 schools can be as good as any other in the city."

Jarvis, meanwhile, defends herself against charges that she shows up around the ward only at election time. She said she holds a meeting every month in the ward and said the people who complain about not seeing her are "people who are disconnected from their citizenship."

Fenty said in large part people in the ward feel frustrated by the poor level of government services provided to the ward and he vowed to pay greater attention to the wardís neighborhoods.

"Constituent service is really about putting yourself in the place of the person calling you," he said. "You need to return every call and answer every letter."

Jarvis, who would be serving her final term if elected in November under the Districtís term limit law, sees a final term as a way of capping her political career that has spanned three decades.

"This is really going to be my most exciting term," Jarvis said. "It is an opportunity to finish a job that I started when I first came in to elective office."

She said the clout she and her committee have garnered over the years is about to pay off for the residents of the ward. Jarvis points to the recently announced initiative that would pump $111 million in government funds over the next five years into efforts to redevelop the Georgia Avenue business corridor. The initiative includes moving the Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters to the Petworth Metro stop, streetscape improvements and housing rehabilitation efforts.

She said during a recent debate that electing Fenty would essentially mean the ward would have to start over in its efforts to rebuild and questioned whether he has the necessary experience to serve on the council.

Fenty has countered the question of his experience by citing his term as a legislative aide on Councilman Kevin P. Chavousí education committee.

"Thatís valid experience," Fenty said. "I drafted laws that my opponent voted on. I know what needs to be done from an operational level. In that vein I probably have more experience than she did when she was first elected. Itís about ability and itís about aptitudeÖ.Just because youíre older doesnít mean youíre better for the job."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator