Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

At Home With the Fentys

Washington D.C.’s mayor apparent is tight-lipped about his plans for the city,
but as long as he stays grounded, the District should continue to take off


The District's Adrian Fenty fits a pattern that is becoming increasingly noticeable in American political life. "Bald, black and beautiful" is the easy way to characterize a number of talented young men aspiring to local and national leadership positions. Sen. Barack Obama, now on a possible track to the presidency, surely fits the mold with his near-ascetic profile and closecropped hair. Not far behind is Newark Mayor Cory Booker. In addition to their outsized energy levels, there is also a certain boldness, an eagerness to achieve, and maybe even a sense of destiny in their lives.

"The story of this campaign is that the city is going to keep moving forward, but it's going to move forward a lot faster," the 36-year-old Mr. Fenty said not long ago in an interview with Washington Life. "The problems usually are simple enough to explain. It's the follow-through that is usually missing." Many District residents feel he won his election largely on those grounds: Attention to everyday needs of voters, however small their problem.

ANYONE IN HIS POSITION is on a steep learning curve and he frankly admits his admiration for such other big city mayors as New York’s Michael Bloomberg, whom he visited soon after his primary win.

What happens to the needs of his young family at home is another story that, in his case anyway, is seemingly resolved with the help of an equally capable, understanding wife. Michelle Fenty, 37, a ‘working mom,’ is a lawyer specializing in global technology matters for the law firm of Perkins Cole. The couple, who are parents of six-year-old twin boys, Matthew and Andrew, met at Howard Law School, after which Mr. Fenty worked in the private sector and in a District government agency before exposure to elective office as a city council member representing Ward 4.

It was love at first sight, the mayor concedes — a bit reluctantly. (Possibly out of some understandable need to separate the personal from his newly minted public self.) They married in February 1997 and settled into a home in the Crestwood section near Rock Creek Park where they still live. Michelle Fenty is the “household manager,” the talented renovator and decorator whose taste reflects her sophisticated background. Of Jamaican heritage, she grew up in London and New York, where she moved with her parents at age 18. Mr. Fenty, by contrast, is a “local boy” from Mount Pleasant. His mother is of Italian descent; his father was an artist. The family business today is the specialty running shoe store Fleet Feet in Adams Morgan.

As prominent as his name is, the mayorapparent’s commitment to fitness and especially to a daily jogging routine, is a good indication of his commitment to his new-found role. A Washington Post story this summer quoted him saying he manages his share of domestic duties by turning on the lawn sprinkler before setting out on a five to seven mile run and turning it off when he returns. He’ll mow the lawn Sundays, and even cook breakfast. In their rare free time together, the family goes in for what he calls “family challenges.” Father and sons are into basketball and other sports, while Michelle encourages them to read and even cook together.

Anyone in his position is on a steep learning curve and he frankly admits his admiration for such other big city mayors as New York’s Michael Bloomberg, whom he visited soon after his primary win. Chicago’s Richard Daley and San Francisco’s Gavin Newsom are also city leaders Fenty likes to reference. The recipe for being a good mayor, he says, is being a public servant. “Really, politics is all about helping people,” he states with a summary forthrightness.

As a mayor’s wife, Michelle Fenty understands certain expectations would be made of her as well, but, asked about her likely interests and involvement in the public sector, she is careful to link these with her cares at home. “Anything to do with children is obviously something I’m going to look closely at,” she says, without naming any specific charitable organization she currently supports. Then, too, she adds, “there are so many other issues. You’ve got health issues, AIDS, homelessness. You name it, there are just so many.”

“SCHOOLS NEED A LOT OF WORK but most people don’t think it is a money problem. The only way to build affordable housing is to use government dollars to leverage more private investment.” - Adrian Fenty

Mr. Fenty early on made clear that if elected he would move quickly to get involved in reform of the District’s much-maligned public school system, possibly taking it under his personal control or at least under the direction of his office. He spoke of the idea of putting the mayor “at the center of the operations ... I think that would be able to bring a lot more accountability to the system. When there is a challenge like this, it is a great opportunity. People will be really inspired if they can watch the school system turn around.”

Curiously, he once confessed that Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth, Part II, “was his favorite protagonist in fiction, explaining that part of the reason was the opportunity for someone in a position of leadership not to be afraid to try new things.

energy and excitement into the government, whether it was schools, policy, or affordable housing,” Fenty says. “The District of Columbia would know that he was somebody who was going to put all of his effort into fixing the problems. That is how we won this campaign: just pure grit and hard work.”


Adrian has spoken tirelessly about his “world class” vision for our Nation’s capital during his campaign for mayor. As an attorney practicing in the District of Columbia, focusing on drafting global technology transactions, I recognize the need for the District to adopt a “world class” technology infrastructure. Such an infrastructure will enable District residents, government agencies and businesses to be efficient in their tasks, provide better information and physical security for all residents and allow us to compete in the global marketplace. Ideally, I would like to see the District erase what I see as the digital divide that has not allowed all residents equal access to technology in the last few years. My dream for our city is to create a technology infrastructure which will provide internet access to all residents. Evolving before us is a technology gap between the rich and the poor. This gap continues to fuel disparities that keep many local residents from participating in our community. Naturally, we can not begin to think about competing globally until we ensure that all of our residents, young and old, are technically proficient. Adrian and I are hoping that the residents of the District of Columbia will join us on our mission to create a “world class” city, a mission we hope will include a “world class” technology infrastructure. Michelle Cross Fenty is an attorney at the law firm Perkins Coie

His primary win was definitely an endorsement of this spirit, and the can-do attitude Mr. Fenty projects. He admits as much, saying he believes his message “captured the imagination of people who probably weren’t happy ... People who feel left out of the process.” Government should be measured “by what they [officials] do for the people who have the least.”

One of his priorities is preserving the city’s financial surplus in a sort of “rainy day fund that gives us some level of fiscal responsibility and fiscal solvency that I think the District has not had in a long time. It attracts people to the city, and it makes them feel good about how we are spending the money.”

He qualifies that by suggesting that one “critical area” in need of a heavy infusion of dollars is affordable housing. “Schools need a lot of work but most people don’t think it is a money problem. The only way to build affordable housing is to use government dollars to leverage more private investment.”

He realizes that the challenge of hiring civil servants is on a par with solving these problems and the need is to employ those who have the energy and vitality and willingness to try. He cites the late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy whom he quotes saying “politics and government really should be about bringing new people into the process, younger people. Historically in all movements younger people have always driven the agenda.”

None of this leaves out the very real fact that District residents are shut out of the ability to control their own agenda, in terms of voting representation in Congress, which Mr. Fenty calls “our signature issue.”

“A lot of people want to work for the government right now, and a lot of new people are moving back to the District. I think there are also a lot who would be national spokespeople on this issue. This is the perfect time to use the transitioning government to give attention to the issue,” he says. “We have to try to find new ways to solve it.”

The answer, he likes to say, is “to think outside the box,” but he displays a certain caution about the idea of encouraging residents to put money into escrow in lieu of paying taxes as a way of overcoming the present stalemate of taxation without due representation in Congress. “You’ve got to push the envelope,” he agrees. But also “you’ve got to wait for the right opportunity.” As the District’s next mayor, that opportunity is now.


When asked in the September issue of Washington Life to explain, in 20 words or less, my vision for D.C., I said: A world-class economically strong city with high performing, safe, modern schools; secure, environmentally healthy, diverse neighborhoods; and full Congressional representation. I’m delighted to have more space this time to elaborate. I stress “world class” because I believe the District has to think and act differently to be a force in the global economy and to be a leader in efficiency and accountability for the Nation. To do this, we must have excellent public schools to prepare our students for civic life and to participate in the region’s expanding job market. Our school facilities must be appealing and support learning, while our curriculums must enable our students to perform to high standards. We have a long way to go, but soon we will increase our graduation rates, raise academic performance and expose our students to a larger world. Our neighborhoods have been the District’s hidden treasures. I envision them free of crime, with clean air and modernized, safe sanitation systems. We will resolve our current affordable housing crisis and we will retain our diversity. I intend to work to win full representation for the District, for budgetary autonomy and for the ability elect our judges. I don’t believe we can truly be a world-class city with second-class citizenship.

As of printing, Adrian Fenty is the Ward 4 representative on the Council of the District of Columbia and is the Democratic nominee for mayor.


FASHION CREDITS: Mr. Fenty wears a Canali blue/grey cashmere sweater, $795.00; Zegna navy corduroy pants, $250.00; Cole Haan brown leather loafers, $165.00. All from James at Tyson’s Galleria, Va. On Michelle Fenty: Valentino ivory cashmere belted sweater, $1350.00 (Saks Jandel, Chevy Chase, Md.); Citizens of Humanity black cropped jeans, $145.00 (Wink, Washington, D.C.); Cole Haan black leather boots, $275.00 (Bloomingdale’s, Tyson’s Corner, Va.); Faux Pearl bracelet, $45.00 (Ann Hand, Washington, D.C.); and Freshwater pearl earrings, $125.00 (Ann Hand, Washington, D.C.).

Mr. Fenty wears a Zegna black tuxedo ($2100), Canali tuxedo shirt ($250), and a Tino Cosma black pleated tie ($295). All from James at Tyson’s Galleria, Va. Credits for Michelle Fenty: Vera Wang pink with brown belt gown, $795.00 (Saks Jandel, Chevy Chase, Md.); and Mystique vintage collection amethyst/pearl chandelier earrings, $165.00 (Saks Jandel, Chevy Chase, Md.)




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