D.C. Mayor Gray Hunkers Down for Stretch Run

Barrington M. Salmon | 2/26/2014, 3 p.m.
Perhaps it's a good thing that Mayor Vincent C. Gray operates effectively on a limited sleep schedule. These days, he ...
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray Photo by Shevry Lassiter

But in spite of the veneer of an economic renaissance, beneath the surface, there are issues that paint an entirely different picture.

There is the human toll of a break-neck gentrification, that while resulting in thousands of new apartments, homes and retail establishments, has resulted in 40,000 D.C. residents leaving the city because it has gotten too expensive to live here; draconian policies of the property tax office that has snatched homes away from residents – particularly the elderly – who owe taxes and sold them to speculators and developers for ridiculously small amounts of money; a middle- and working-class squeezed by some of the highest rents in the country and expensive houses they can’t afford; the shortage of affordable housing; illiteracy; crime; and a troubling high school dropout rate.

Meanwhile, hanging over Gray like the sword of Damocles, is the ongoing federal investigation headed by U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia Ron Machen, Jr. For three years, Machen has been trying to follow the money trail while unearthing details of clandestine deals that financed a shadow campaign ran by Gray associates in 2010. So far, three campaign aides have pled guilty and a fourth recently made a plea deal, and Machen has said Gray has not been forthcoming.

Gray has offered several mea culpas.

“I tried to address it from the very beginning,” he said. “I apologized and took responsibility. I don’t know what else to do … I did nothing wrong. I’m not concerned about (an) indictment.”

In a recent Washington Post poll of prospective Democratic voters, Gray captured 27 percent support. Some spoke of their unease and distrust of Gray because of the allegations. But Gray polls considerably better than his challengers. So far, he’s picked up endorsements from five labor unions but just last week, the Post endorsed Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser.

Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, said the Post and others are on a witch hunt and he said he’s 100 percent confident that Gray did nothing wrong.

With the primary election looming April 1, Gray and Thies have been coy about how much the campaign has raised, with Thies saying there’s enough in the coffers to mount an effective campaign.

Gray remains bullish on the record forged during his first term.

“I want to continue the investment, but primarily help people in the shadows, get their lives in a better place, but there are market forces at work too,” he said. “Our focus is so much on getting people to work. Housing, jobs and education are my top three (issues). I don’t feel that it is lost for the (vulnerable) D.C. residents.”

“We have to make sure that African Americans have the wherewithal to succeed in this city.”

D.C. resident Shireen Lewis said Gray is to be commended for what he’s done but expressed deep concern about the homeless.

“This man has done some great things but there are some things he hasn’t done so great on, and the homeless issue is one,” said Lewis, who said she’s drawn to the messages and platforms of Andy Shallal and Reta Jo Lewis (no relation). “The most vulnerable in our city is who we should take care of. I say, ‘My God, if he’s not taking care of homeless who is?’”

“Where is the affordable housing (for) the 1,000 people being left homeless? That should be the mayor and the council’s role. I don’t want to hear what the council didn’t do. You are the mayor. You should get the front page of the Washington Post and shout to the hills.”

Thies, 47, says the primary race is Gray’s to lose.

“Every candidate except the mayor is a longshot,” he asserted. “It depends on who you talk to but people want the candidates to focus on issues and explain their vision for the next four years, but unfortunately, most of the candidates want to smear the mayor. They have collectively spent $1.5 million and they’re polling in the single digits.”

“If you talk about the issues, you’ll see that Vince Gray is doing a great job. All they do is sling mud and hope that will result in chaos and that someone will emerge from that chaos. But the voters are smarter than that.”