Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's reelection bid this year probably will be of national interest primarily as a referendum on Michelle Rhee. Fenty chose Rhee as his school superintendent and she almost instantly became a controversial nationally known reformer and scourge of teachers unions. Fenty's campaign for a second term this fall is the first chance voters have to weigh in on Rhee.
Rarely, though, are mayoral elections really referendums on nationally significant topics. Often, they're about boring stuff like whether the city is doing a good job providing basic services (who wants to talk about that?). The same is true in D.C. where, after the past couple of weeks, the new leading issue may be snow removal.
Last winter, Governing had a story about the politics of snow. Lots of mayors have been doomed by poor snowstorm responses: Michael Bilandic in Chicago, John Lindsay in New York City, Bill McNichols in Denver. As soon as we wrote that story, it merited an update. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels had his own halting snowstorm response, one that contributed to his defeat last year.
Still, it's hard to get more than an anecdotal sense of whether or not the public approves of Fenty's snowstorm performance. Most people in Washington do appreciate that we don't often get big storms and probably couldn't be expected to remove snow as efficiently as more experienced Northern cities. If we were snow pros, we wouldn't feel the need to name our storms: Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, Snoverkill, SnOMG, etc.
Even a minor hit to Fenty from the storms could put him in serious trouble. A recent (pre-snowstorm) Washington Post poll put his approval rating at 42%. Rhee's approval numbers also are shaky. In the Democratic primary, Fenty had a slight lead over City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, who has sparred with Rhee lately. I haven't heard Gray criticizing Fenty on snow removal, but we'll see.
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