Forgive me, dear readers, for my absence. To those of you who checked in a month ago looking for your dose of smugness – sorry to disappoint.

In my defense, I wasn’t the only person missing in action; our own Mayor Adrian Fenty headed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for some rest and relaxation with the family. They probably caught a tennis match, relaxed on the beach, maybe did some indoor skiing or bought a D.C.-shaped island. (As a side note, Dubai might be the tackiest place on earth. It’s like a sandy Planet Hollywood with petrodictators.)

The government of Dubai bankrolled the mayor’s trip and, to show their gratitude, gave a nice donation to the D.C. government. What hospitality! It reminds me of the time the mayor went to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing courtesy of the Chinese government. They gave the city a gift too. Say what you want about authoritarian regimes – they know how to treat a guest. My next vacation is going to be in Myanmar.

Naturally, our mayor’s foreign acquaintances have raised a few eyebrows stateside. But some of Fenty’s friends also have people wondering what happened to the bright-eyed wunderkind of 2006. Back then, Councilman Fenty was selling his vision of D.C. door to door, casting himself as the champion of local residents from all walks of life. He was kind of like President Obama, the beta version: a young, Blackberry-toting upstart running with an unpopular executive in office, facing off against a more experienced pol in the primaries.

But now, with the next mayoral election set for 2010, it seems Fenty is getting rather cozy with big businessmen and real-estate developers. Of Fenty’s impressive $2-million re-election war chest, over 40 percent has come from real estate and construction businesses. Over half of his money comes from outside of the District. In 2006, the typical donation to Fenty’s campaign was a $100 check; for 2010, most of his contributors are giving the maximum $2,000.

Then there are the allegations of nepotism at the mayor’s office. Many D.C. government watchers and some city council members are criticizing Fenty for appointing close friends to influential positions in city government. The wife of his deputy mayor for economic development just got a plum position in the city attorney general’s office, and one of Fenty’s family friends just got appointed to the Public Service Commission.

Big business, oil money, and nepotism. That may fly in Louisiana, but – no, wait. Nowadays, that flies in D.C. too.

While the mayor seems to be having a few issues with style – black fedora aside – Fenty still wins points for substance. His tenure in office has been good for the city, and his daring gambit to turn around the District’s schools with D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee will probably be his lasting legacy. He’s taken to task chronically underperforming city agencies like Child and Family Services. He’s actively gone after the slumlords who short-change poor residents. The dynamism and spirit of service he’s brought to city government these last two years deserve applause.

But perhaps that’s what makes Fenty’s recent shadiness more troubling – a lot of people in the District have their hopes pinned on him. After all, D.C. residents are used to being disappointed by their mayors (see: Marion Barry). Fenty spent a lot of his time on the D.C. Council criticizing his predecessor, Anthony Williams, for taking frequent trips, for being beholden to business interests and for hiring friends to do city business.

These criticisms ring a little hollow today. Hopefully the mayor hasn’t forgotten the small donations – the people who put him in office, and who will choose whether or not to keep him there or not next year.

If he has, we might just have yet another cautionary tale about promising politicians who turn out to be, well, politicians.

Sebastian Johnson is a junior in the College and is studying abroad at the London School of Economics in England. He can be reached at Tale of Two Cities appears every other Monday on

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