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Mayoral Candidate Gray Won Over Voters Following Primary at City-Wide Community Meetings

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

By Anthony L. Harvey

In a bold move to disarm critics and make himself better known to all parts of the District of Columbia, City Council Chai Vincent Gray conducted an unprecedented series of packed, highly successful town hall meetings immediately following his decisive victory over incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the September Democratic Primary to be the party’s mayoral nominee.

Gray’s victory over Fenty presented Washingtonians with an ironic phenomenon: a young, African-American attorney with a successful political record being defeated for re-election by an older African-American with a successful public sector career both in government and as a non-profit organization executive — a career seconded with an equally successful, later-in-life, political record — and with both men being native Washingtonians.

Yet, the primary election results read on one level as though one candidate were white and the other black, with Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6 — the so-called “white” wards — giving Fenty commanding majorities and Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 — their assumed “black” counterparts — giving Gray even greater majorities. City-wide totals were 72,000 for Gray and 59,000 for Fenty, a 54 percent to 44 percent split.

Thus, a barnstorming set of community forums, scheduled to occur between the September primary and the November 2nd general election were announced, beginning with a crowded, rousing turnout for Gray in Ward 5.

The second was strategically scheduled for Ward 3, where Gray did least well in the primary, having scored his worst, four to one loss — a 20 percent of the vote total to Fenty’s 79 percent. Notwithstanding, Gray turned a tumultuous evening at St. Columba Episcopal Church — with a crowded hall spilling into the church lobby and overflowing onto the front lawn at the intersection of Albemarle and 42nd Streets, NW where Fenty write-in supporters were demonstrating, into a rousing congregation of agreement to a barnstorming-style presentation of his educational philosophy.

As Gray made clear, his approach will be for a strong, reform-minded public schools chancellor accountable to the equally strong leadership of a collaborative mayor and a continuation of the progress that had been made during the Fenty/Rhee regime, with a further emphasis of full engagement with the entire community of stakeholders in which public education would be the first priority of his mayoral administration.

Gray expanded on his vision for further reforms in special education, the University of the District of Columbia and its recently inaugurated community college program, of strengthening the public charter school program, and a renewed concern for vocational education, especially for those students not selecting an academic track in a four-year college, and a reform of the fiscal control and financial management of the District’s education budget. Gray singled the success of Allen Lew and the nearly four-year record of successes in renovating, rebuilding, and modernizing DC school facilities, closing this part of the program with an announcement of the September completion of budget for pre-K programs for every three- and four-year old in the District.

Gray’s second priority appears to be jobs. He was equally emphatic in his presentation of his awareness as Council Chair of the dire straits of many DC residents who are currently jobless, especially in the wards east of the Anacostia River. In responding to questions from jobless apprentice electricians, Gray pledged to go after and penalize construction firms that use loopholes to circumvent First Source hiring requirements that call for employing on jobs 51 percent DC residents for DC government-sponsored projects. They’ll lose those contracts,” vowed Gray, who continued by pledging an emphasis by his administration on job training that responds to specific job skill requirements in DC and an overhaul of the District’s Employment Services Administration.

Issues of public safety, and an emphasis on finding ways to affordably house police officers, firefighters and EMS responders and their families in DC, together with a promise to restore integrity in the office of the Mayor with a renewed program of transparency in DC government activities and the appointment of qualified persons to the District’s boards and commissions, as well as to cabinet-level positions. Concluding his facts and policy-filled presentation, Gray also pledged to fight for DC voting rights, which received an enthusiastic response.

This reporter followed Gray’s town hall meetings through the remainder of the wards where he had received the lesser number of votes than did Fenty — Ward 2, which met at Foundry United Methodist Church; Ward 1, which assembled in the auditorium of the Carlos Rosario Charter School; and Ward 6, which enjoyed the spacious facilities of the Atlas Performing Center in the H Street, NE corridor. Speaking without notes or a prepared text, Gray presented, and responded to questions, in all four wards in a manner wholly consistent and continuingly detailed regarding these same sets of issue and priority programs from one ward to another.

Gray’s campaign staff, along with an army of volunteers, also passed out at each of these ward meetings printed copies of his eloquently articulated position papers bearing the following titles: “Ensuring A Quality Education for All Children;” “Creating Real Economic Opportunity for All;” “Restoring Public Trust in the Mayor’s Office;” and “Keeping Our Citizens & Communities Safe.”

By all accounts, Gray’s town hall meetings in Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 were equally successful, and were followed by the general election on November 2nd where Gray out-polled a write-in candidacy for Fenty—who, ironically for his write-in supporters, announced his support for Gray — by 74 percent to 23 percent of the vote, losing only six of the 143 voting precincts.