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Legal Times reporter Osita Iroegbu sat down with Michelle Cross Fenty, 37, who is of counsel at Perkins Coie, on Sept. 28. Her husband of nearly 10 years, Ward 4 D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, 35, won the District’s Democratic primary for mayor last month. The daughter of Jamaican-born parents, Fenty, who was born and raised in London and graduated from Howard University School of Law, spoke in a soft, British accent of her husband, their twin sons, and neoclassical design.
LT: Describe your work at Perkins Coie. How long have you worked there? Fenty: It’s a technology-based firm that deals largely with intellectual property. I write transactions, agreements on a global scale. We often help companies all over the world to upgrade their computer systems. I’ve been here for about one year.
LT: You graduated from Howard University School of Law Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Fenty: I’ve been a lawyer for so long. I graduated from Howard Law School in 1994. I wanted to work in an area where I might be able to help people.
LT: You met your husband at Howard Law School. Was there an automatic attraction, and how is he different from when he was a young law student? Fenty: I was two years ahead of him and ended up being his mentor during his first year. He would say that there was an automatic attraction but there’s so much more to it than that for me: ( laughing). He is very much the same person. He carries the same characteristics. He’s always been a very, very compassionate person who was also considerate of other people.
LT: Howard School of Law has a history of churning out great social leaders like Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill. With you and your husband both being Howard Law graduates, do you see yourselves as continuing that civil rights wave? Fenty: Howard was a great environment for us both. I think we both really want to be committed to helping others and serving our communities. I don’t think we are trying to leave a legacy. We just want to do what we think is right for others.
LT: As a law student, did your husband express any interest in possibly running for mayor one day? Fenty: No. I don’t think he ever had that idea. It was kind of like the next step for him after he first won a seat on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission and then City Council. He’s not your typical politician. He is who he is. At the end of the day, it’s about how much he serves his constituents.
LT: You and Mr. Fenty have 6-year-old twin sons, Matthew and Andrew. With both of you being lawyers, how do you manage to raise two young boys? What types of family activities do you enjoy? Fenty: It’s very hard, but it’s getting better. We both stay busy. I love to work, but I make sure I keep that balance of taking care of my family and working. I’m very interested in interior design. I like to read books and magazines and watch HGTV to give me ideas. I designed our Crestwood home with a neoclassical look. We all like to do water-related activities. I like to scuba-dive and go snorkeling. We don’t get to do it that often now because we’ve been very busy, but that’s what we usually do for fun. My boys like to play tennis, football.
LT: Your twins currently attend private school. With Mr. Fenty running for mayor and being a proponent of public school education, have questions arisen concerning that? Fenty: The boys are in first grade. The school they attend ends at the third grade. No one has really brought it up as an issue. We are thinking about placing them in public school later on. Both Adrian and I attended public schools. So it is something that we are thinking about.
LT: Does your husband’s busy campaign schedule often keep him away from home? Fenty: Adrian is very busy, especially with the upcoming November elections. He spends time with his family, of course, but he is working very, very hard. He is also communicating with people in other localities, like New York, to consider the best practices for running D.C.
LT: In 1999 your husband was admonished for his mishandling of a probate case involving an elderly client, in which a substantial amount of money had been taken from the client’s account when Mr. Fenty was supposed to be overseeing it. Fenty: That was something that happened a while ago. You can look at all of his actions today. Everything speaks for itself. People learn from their mistakes; some don’t. He’s a very responsible person. I’m really proud that the voters found him to be responsible and trustworthy on the real issues, because that’s what’s important. They voted on the issues in the campaign.
LT: What makes Mr. Fenty different from Mayor Anthony Williams? Fenty: They are different, but they also have similar qualities. Adrian has great energy and is very people-friendly. This is his home, and he really has the passion to do a phenomenal job to make this a world-class city.
LT: What one thing do you think your husband can stand to improve upon if elected mayor? Name one weakness. Fenty: He works too hard. He just works too hard. He’s not home a lot because he’s out there all the time, talking to people and making sure he knows what they want and need.
LT: Do you and your husband share a similar taste in music and movies? Fenty: He likes a hodgepodge of music. He has an eclectic taste. He likes R&B, of course. He listens to reggae. He likes some rock music, lots of different types. He really likes “The Firm” and “A Few Good Men.” I like feel-good movies, as long they have a good message and are inspirational.
LT: You were born and raised in London, and both of your parents are Jamaican. What role does your background play in your life and work? Fenty: I think both of our backgrounds allow us to relate to all different types of people and be accepting of everybody. Adrian grew up in Washington, D.C., and has a very supportive family. He’s very close to his parents, who own Fleet Feet, an athletic-shoe store in Adams Morgan. Because of our backgrounds, I think we are able to understand lots of people. It’s so diverse here in D.C. that I don’t often think of me being different because I’m from London ( laughing). But it has taught me to put less emphasis on superficial characteristics.
LT: When he’s away from home, what types of things do you and the twins like to do? Fenty: I like to cook. With my Caribbean background, I like to include things with that sort of flavor. My boys help me with cooking, too.
LT: Have your twins been involved in the campaign at all, and how do you think they will remember this time in their life in which their father made a historic sweep, winning votes in all eight wards? Fenty: They have attended events, but I try to keep them away from too much of it. They know that Adrian won the first election, but I think they are wondering why he has to be in another one in November. It was nice to see the boys be a part of community projects initiated by my husband, like helping out with playground areas or something like that. When we found out Adrian had won in all the wards, it was heartfelt. Of course you hope for the best, but when it happened we were very astounded. I want the boys to remember what it means to work really hard and what it means to put in lots of work in order to reach their goal. I want them to be the best that they can be. At the end of the day, that’s what’s really important.
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