On Sept. 14, the race for mayor appeared to be a done deal to everyone in the district, including incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty, when Vincent Gray was declared the winner. However, some of Fenty’s most ardent supporters did not believe the fight was over just yet.
Immediately after Gray was declared the Democratic candidate for mayor, it was announced that Fenty won as a write-in Republican candidate. It was later revealed that some supporters started a grassroots campaign for Fenty to run as a write-in candidate.
The founder of that campaign was John Hlinko, the self-titled “Buzz Czar” of Hlinko Consulting, a company that uses Facebook and other social networking sites for grassroots advocacy.
“I was really impressed by the progress being made and then I was depressed when he lost,” said Hlinko. “I thought, ‘What the heck?’ The election’s November 2nd, and you know, if people just end up making a small statement, it is what it is, but if this thing really snowballs and people do really want to keep Fenty, then you know, here’s their chance.”
And for some residents, the message was loud and clear. Hlinko’s Facebook group, “Run, Fenty, Run” has over 7,700 fans. “Re-elect Fenty” signs remain on front lawns, green Fenty shirts still populate the district, and campaign volunteers are still pushing for their man.
Despite their efforts, however, Fenty said he has no intentions of running as a write-in candidate. He also said that he has no plans to stop the grassroots campaign, either.
To that accord, Hlinko stated that he takes Fenty as his word and believes he’s truly supporting Gray, but that Fenty supporters should understand that there is still a chance that Fenty can win.
“If you really want him to stay mayor,” Hlinko tells supporters, “It’s up to you, the people in D.C., to get enough votes that he has to make that decision.”
Considering the primary process, supporters of the write-in campaign agree with Hlinko.
“During the primary elections, you were only allowed to vote if you were a registered Democrat or Republican. That means that everyone could not vote during the primaries,” said Frederick Butler, 27, a Houston native and director of communications for the Fenty Campaign.
“Fenty lost by 13,000 votes,” he added. “That’s not much of a difference. So now, all of those people that couldn’t vote during the primaries, they can vote now. And we know that they support and want Fenty as mayor.”
The effort is probable. Results from the Sept. 14 election by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics show that a little over one-third of registered Democrats, about 134,000 residents, voted in the primary. This number doesn’t include the other 200,000 registered Democrats, 29,000 Republicans and 4,000 DC Statehood Green voters.
Supporters argue that the motivation behind the grassroots campaign is education reform.
“We’re all here for education reform,” said Butler. “Washington, D.C. is the most illiterate city in the United States. Education is the foundation for any civilization. How can any city thrive without it? My friends back in Houston consider D.C. a laughing stock.”
“Education is a big deal. I went to kind of a lousy public school growing up, and I still remember that. There were some absolutely outstanding teachers and there were some who you were just like, ‘Oh my God, what is going on here?'” said Hlinko. He added that his desire to send his four-year-old daughter to public school is a factor in his fight to keep Fenty in office.
Fenty campaign volunteer Javier Cabara felt so passionately about the mayor’s position on education, he dedicated his time to the campaign. “Education is the key to everything,” said Cabara, 24. “People say we need more jobs, well education leads to more jobs. We need better education. That is what Fenty believes, and I believe in what he is doing.”
Many Fenty supporters cite the resignation of D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee as a driving force in the write-in campaign. “I think Rhee’s resignation is sad,” said Butler. “It is very indicative to the discourse currently in D.C. All you hear is Gray promising jobs, but you don’t hear too much about education. Rhee was good for the schools.”
Michelle Rhee announced her resignation on Oct. 13, nearly a month after Fenty lost the primary. Three days after the primary, the Washington Post quoted Rhee as saying the results were “devastating to the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.”
Gray supporters, however, don’t believe education reform is the motivation of Fenty supporters. “What good is writing in a nonexistent candidate going to do for education reform?” said Keith, a Gray volunteer and 35-year D.C. resident, who requested that his name be withheld in an attempt to remove negativity from the Gray campaign.
“They want to dillute Gray’s victory,” he said. “This is a third party effort, whose mission is to create a racial and economic divide between the people of D.C.”
Eric Leaphart, a small business owner and Gray volunteer, agrees with his colleague. “It’s not about education reform. Why does Fenty accept the defeat himself? They are promoting a fear-monger. They say they are upset about Rhee’s resignation, praising her for progress to the school system. That wasn’t Rhee’s school system, that was [New York City’s public school chancellor] Joe Klein’s school system. She was just doing what he did,” said 39-year-old Leaphart.
“They are fueling the fire. They are trying to create a divide between black and white and rich and poor. They have this fear that Gray is going to go back to old school 1990’s politics. That is a political soundbite that is inaccurate. If they knew the issues and what he stands for, there wouldn’t be any mockery,” Leaphart said of Fenty supporters.
On the other hand, Hlinko said there are no ulterior motives behind the campaign and that personally, no matter what the outcome of the Nov. 2 election is, he will stand behind the winner. “What I’m hoping is that either Mayor Fenty will win or if Chairman Gray wins, we’ll be able to send a strong signal that we will get together, unite as a city, but we really, really did care about the education reforms and the other improvements that Mayor Fenty made. If it’s Chairman Gray, I’ll do whatever I can to help him.”
Butler said, “We are going to send a strong message to Gray. We are going to hold him accountable of for all of his policies. We want him to be cognizant of we are doing.”