UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 17, 2009

MULTITASKING POLITICIANS ARE A DANGER TO HUMAN LIFE

David Nakamura, Washngton Post - Since news broke that he received a speeding ticket in May and, this month, got into a fender-bender, there is debate about whether D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty should be driving himself through the city or relying on a security detail like the other big-city mayors Fenty so often cites as role models. . .

As a reporter who covered the first two years of the Fenty administration, I can attest that, for better or worse, driving isn't the only thing the mayor is doing behind the wheel. He's also talking on the phone . . . and talking . . . and talking some more. Actually, on two phones. Possibly three.

My first experience riding in a Fenty-driven vehicle came shortly after the then-D.C. Council member won the September 2006 Democratic primary. I was still on a first-name basis with him when he invited me to accompany him to Baltimore, where he was meeting then-Mayor Martin O'Malley to talk about "best practices." Fenty picked me up in his white SUV, his personal photographer (a family friend) in the front seat. His then-spokesman and I rode in the back.

The radio was set to hip-hop stations WKYS or WPGC, with the candidate toggling back and forth. Hands-free cords from two BlackBerrys ran into each of Fenty's ears. As he drove with his left hand, Fenty constantly switched from one phone to the other with his right. As soon as one conversation ended, he was on the other phone. Callers interrupted one another. He put people on hold. Hung up on them. Apologized for keeping them waiting. Some were addressed with hearty hellos, others with a serious voice. When a phone battery ran low, he would plug it into the dashboard. He seemed so preoccupied that I grew a little uneasy -- we were driving on major highways, after all.. . .

After his "best practices" trips, I didn't ride with Fenty again (though I did follow him to events, zig-zagging through all the shortcuts he learned growing up and campaigning here). Although I was not in his car, I noticed that the pattern remained the same: When the mayor arrives at one of his many news conferences, he generally parks a block from the event and collects himself before stepping out of the car. More often than not, he's talking on the phone when he emerges.

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