Finally, Gray Challenges Fenty

James Wright | 3/31/2010, 6:44 a.m.

The chair of the D.C. Council ended months of speculation Tue., March 30 and formally declared his desire to unseat the present mayor and become the sixth-elected chief executive of Washington, D.C.

€I am ready to step up and provide leadership,€ Council Chair Vincent Gray told a crowd of supporters after he filed his paperwork with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor.

€We can do better.€

Gray, 67, is considered to be the main challenger to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for the Democratic nomination, which will take place on Sept. 14.

In a short speech after his filing, Gray said that he was a €die-in-the-wool€ Washingtonian and
product of the District€s public school system. He is a Dunbar High School alum and holds bachelor and masters degrees from The George Washington University in Northwest. He pledged to work to bring the city together and run a competent government, if elected mayor.

Other candidates for the Democratic nomination include former television reporter, insurance executive and civic activist Leo Alexander, businessman Ernest Johnson and former Fenty ally Sulaimon Brown.

Multi-millionaire R. Donahue Peebles, who is listed as one of the wealthiest African Americans in the country with a net worth of $350 million by Forbes magazine, is also considering a run for the city€s top spot but had not made a decision by Informer press time.

Technically, Gray starts his mayoral campaign with zero in his bank account, but is expected to get perhaps millions of dollars in his quest due to unhappiness within the D.C. business community with Fenty and an aggressive, grassroots fundraising drive. The Fenty campaign reported in its recent filing that it had raised $4 million for the 39-year-old€s re-election.

In a statement released by the Fenty campaign on March 29, it stated that no one will be taken for granted €and we will continue to work as hard as humanly possible to make the District of Columbia a city that works for everyone.€

Nevertheless, Fenty faces a tough campaign with Gray in the race. While the mayor has gotten credit for rebuilding schools, libraries and recreation centers; leveling the crime rate and a rise in test scores in the school system, he has been perceived by many residents, particularly African Americans, as being
aloof, abrasive and arrogant.

Some residents even discount Fenty€s achievements. €I am expressing support for Vincent Gray,€ Robert Brannum, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, said.

€Fenty has nothing to do with the increase of our children€s test scores. Many of the things he is rebuilding were capital grounds projects that were put in place before he became mayor and were it not for [D.C. Councilman] Harry Thomas, they would not be on track.€

In recent opinion polls commissioned by the Washington Post and District-based, nonpartisan Clarus Research Group, Gray leads Fenty by narrow margins citywide. However, Gray overwhelms Fenty among
Blacks while the mayor comes out ahead by double digits among Whites.

While the numbers should give encouragement to Gray, David Bositis, senior research associate at Washington€s Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said that the council chair is still the underdog in the race. €I€m not sure that Fenty is in serious trouble,€ Bositis said.

€The odds favor his re-election and at the present moment, he is the favorite to be re-elected.€ Bositis said that while Fenty is not well-liked by residents east of the Anacostia River, €he is popular with the people west of it.€ D.C. City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, with his son Carlos, (r) files his paperwork declaring his candidacy for mayor with Wesley Williams, an official with the Office of Campaign Finance on Tue., March 30. Photo by Victor Holt

€The people west of the river turn out to vote in higher rates,€ he said.

Still, Bositis said that Gray has a good shot because of the dire state of the economy.

€These are tough economic times and people are not in a good mood. People are unhappy with incumbents and this is across the country.€

Rick Powell, the political/legislative coordinator of the Metropolitan Washington AFLCIO, said that Gray€s entry into the race gives District residents a choice. He said that Gray is a credible challenger to Fenty.

€In the years that he has been chairman of the Council, Gray has brought people together,€ Powell said.

€He has worked with the 13 people on the Council and worked well with them.€ Gray€s foray into the mayor€s race opens his job as chairman. Names bandied about include D.C. Council members Jack
Evans (D-Ward 2) and Kwame Brown (D-At-Large).

Evans was not available for comment. However, Brown said during a short interview with the Informer that he was interested in being elected chair.

€I am seriously looking at that office,€ he said.