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Associated Press/Photo by Nick Wass

Holding Mr. Mayor accountable

Politics | Church and nonprofit leaders want to ensure that Washington's young mayor, Adrian Fenty, cares for the least of these

WASHINGTON-A gospel choir shook the walls and brought hundreds to their feet. A moment later the mayor of Washington, D.C., walked into the Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church and sat in a chair beside church leaders and folk from nearby neighborhoods.

The congregation clapped and shouted, but they didn't come out on a Thursday night just to cheer for the mayor. They wanted some accountability from the man they voted into office.

The gathering was the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), which includes church and nonprofit leaders who meet to pursue justice issues in the district like affordable housing and employment. Around 530 of those leaders showed up Thursday night.

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Mayor Adrian Fenty is famous for his approachability. And at 37, he is the youngest to ever serve in his position. He won a seat on the D.C. Council and then the mayoral race in 2006 by knocking on almost every door in the district.

"He came to my son's graduation!" one man said when the mayor came in.

With the city's 2009 budget in a $96 million shortfall and an economic downturn on everyone's shoulders, the WIN leaders had very specific promises they wanted to hear again from their young mayor. They asked that Fenty work to improve living conditions at the southeast D.C. housing project called Potomac Gardens, where residents deal with rats and backed-up sewers on a regular basis. They asked that a new development in the southeast called Hill East would not simply bring more gentrification, but would provide 30 percent of its units as affordable housing, and that half of the new jobs created by the project would go to locals.

Anne Ford, who grew up on the Hill but moved as home values went up, and experienced the murder of her only son, talked about her old neighborhood to the crowd.

"It was a middle-class neighborhood rich in Jesus," she said. "Where did the people I grew up with go?

"Mr. Mayor, I want a piece, nothing big, just a little front yard."

Despite her sobering story, everyone clapped and laughed. The message these Christians didn't mind saying was: Jesus cares for the least of these, and Mr. Mayor, you say you follow Jesus and you made us some promises. Caring for the least means you help us get affordable housing and jobs-and the leaders didn't mind being that specific.

Fenty stepped to the podium with his speech on a couple sheets of paper, rolled and crumpled.

"Putting others first-isn't that what Jesus Christ and hopefully all of his followers should be about in the first place?" asked Fenty, to which the congregation answered with loud "Amens."

"We will absolutely keep all of our commitments," he said, grinning, giving a thumbs-up to the attendees. He acknowledged the budget shortfalls, but he renewed the promises church leaders asked for. Then he turned and asked the pastor of a church at Potomac Gardens when he could come tour the housing project.

"Four p.m., does that work for you, Reverend?" he asked. That would work fine, he responded.

It was a showcase for grassroots politics. And for how the Church can pursue justice through its political leaders, not just on its own.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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