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Gray Convenes Town Halls in Wards 3,8

James Wright | , WI Staff Writer | 4/11/2012, 3:21 p.m.

Caption-Hundreds of residents and Gray administration officials attend a town hall meeting in Ward 8 at Savoy Elementary School on Mon., April 2. /Courtesy photo

By James Wright

WI Staff Writer

The mayor of the District recently held consecutive town hall meetings during the same week on his proposed city budget in two wards that sit at different ends of the economic spectrum. His purpose was to explain how he plans to close a $172 million gap and to provide details about his budget.

The town halls being held by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) throughout the District this month, appear to be his way of gauging how residents feel about his 2013 budget. Gray's first town hall was held on Mon., April 2 at the Savoy Elementary School gymnasium in Ward 8 in Southeast, where many residents are struggling financially, while a subsequent meeting took place at Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest on Wed., April 4, which is located in an area where many residents are affluent.

"I came to Ward 8 first to be respectful," Gray, 69, said to a crowd of 200 residents and members of his administration. "Good news has come to Ward 8 and we are going to make positive changes east of the [Anacostia] River. I am not going to apologize for coming here first."

Two days later, Gray told 80 residents and members of his administration at Deal, that he has placed a priority on constituent services.

"I understand that some people in our city want nothing more from their government than good services," he said. "I know that some folks just want the government to pick up their trash and to fix the potholes."

Ward 8 is 94 percent black and has the city's lowest home-ownership rate and average family income, which are 24 percent and $44,079, respectively, according to NeighborhoodInfo DC. However, the same source reports that Ward 3 has the highest rate of home-ownership - 57 percent - with a number of renters with high incomes and an average family income of $257,386.

In Ward 8, Gray talked about the $53 million budget item that would help build a new Ballou Senior High School and the $16 million for Dr. John Hayden Johnson Middle School. He also mentioned the $58 million for capital infrastructure investments at St. Elizabeths east campus in his budget.

The Ward 3 presentation contained the same material but had a somewhat different spin. He stressed that the University of the District of Columbia, the main campus located in the ward on Connecticut Avenue, NW, will receive $39 million for facility modernization and the building of a new student center.

The D.C. Council members who represent Wards 8 and 3 had different approaches to the town hall meetings, as well. D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), a four-term mayor, came into the Savoy gymnasium after Gray started his presentation and when, given the opportunity to speak, blasted Gray's budget.

"I do not support this budget because it is balanced on the backs of the poor," Barry, 76, said. "I did not come to break up this meeting - and I am known for doing that - but I just don't like this budget."