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Vince Gray sits down with local bloggers

On Monday, DC Council Chair and candidate for mayor Vincent Gray sat down with DC bloggers at Ben's Chili Bowl.

Photo by the author.

For nearly ninety minutes, Gray answered questions posed by bloggers from DCist, We Love DC, Borderstan, the District Curmudgeon and Greater Greater Washington. The event was part of the Gray campaign's effort to tap into new media, and it provided a chance to talk about topics including education, crime, poverty and transportation.

This was my first chance to meet with Gray, who is challenging the incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty for the Democratic nomination for mayor. The meeting was interesting, and shed some light into Gray's attitude towards DC government, as well as his campaign style.

On the matter of the controversial streetcar funding maneuver, Gray was very candid. He admits it was a mistake, both in the initial cut as well as how it was handled. He maintains that he never intended to cut off all of the funding, but rather direct efforts at better planning. There was a "misunderstanding," he says, and that "it should not have happened." He says he is dedicated to getting streetcars running as mayor. His candor was surprising, and he did offer a sincere and personal apology.

Gray is an experienced politician and also a bit of a policy wonk. The first impression you get is that he knows what is going on, and that he doesn't always need to fall back on talking points. It is obvious that Gray is running a campaign aimed directly at people who have felt left behind by Fenty. Gray stresses that he is a uniter, and that he wants to be the mayor of "all of the people, not just some of the people." He aims to bridge the divide between rich and poor, Northwest and Southeast. He feels too many people have been left behind, and that too many people don't feel invested in the city.

To achieve these goals of unity, Gray is pushing his birth-to-24 education plan. He wants better education for all ages, both to help adults get better jobs and college degrees and to keep young families in the District. His plan, which was released last week, is lofty. He again stressed that he won't answer if he'd keep Michelle Rhee on board, even if she has made it clear she would not stay. He wants reform that is institutionalized, and he wants to get the public more involved.

On a similar note, he would also not commit either way on the future of MPD Chief Cathy Lanier. Overall, Gray has been pleased with her performance, but was very careful to be non-committal. Given his recent endorsement by the police union, this was unsurprising.

Gray also took some time to talk about development and inclusionary zoning. He made it a point that he had been at the front end of that push, and as mayor he would "aggressively implement" inclusionary zoning. This was one of the few points on which Gray hit directly at Fenty, noting his delays have caused lost units. Gray also noted that he supports making rent control permanent. When discussing development, Gray wants to see more expansion of economic diversity in developments, but without such significant displacement. A key part of his plan would be to relocate people nearby during construction, to give them a realistic chance of returning.

During the meeting, Gray was reluctant to take personal swipes at Fenty. He would note areas where Fenty's policies had failed, but it was often his campaign manager Adam Rubinson who would chime in with a more direct attack. Gray's style is moderate and low-key. He knows how government works, and he has some very idealistic plans. His campaign is building a solid alternative to Fenty, but the political calculus in the District is complex. Gray has the support of many who dislike Fenty, but he also needs to attract those on the fence. Gray acknowledges the intensity of the campaign, but did not have a solid answer when asked how he can attract people who are happy with a lot of Fenty's accomplishments.

Gray's campaign can be summed up mostly as providing more opportunities. This includes education, housing, health care and employment. He wants more government transparency and pledges to hold weekly press conferences. I don't think you'd find anyone in the District who would disagree with his platform at this point.

Any skilled candidate will provide thoughtful and compelling answers at a session such as this. The real questions are always in the nitty-gritty. There's no doubt that Vincent Gray loves the District and wants to see things change for the better. This campaign will be won or lost on Gray's ability to convince District voters that he can make these things happen. The wisest thing Gray said on Monday was that this campaign will not come down to who has the most money. Fenty has a large war chest, and a record of results. He also has vulnerabilities. This will be an extremely close race, and it will be interesting to see whether the idealistic campaign plan of Vincent Gray can weather the long, hot DC summer.

Cross-posted at We Love DC.

Dave Stroup is an online organizer and progressive activist. He enjoys public transit, Democratic politics, and rabble-rousing. 


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Obviously we don't want a mayor who makes enemies unnecessarily, and it's true that Fenty has done so. But at the end of the day, the transformation required for our public spaces (schools, transportation and parks) will inevitably make many enemies for any mayor. Which poses the question for Gray - is he willing to make these enemies in order to get things done? I don't think he is, because it would undercut his central campaign promise of inclusion.

by Ken Archer on Jul 6, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

Can you tell Gray - and I'm totally serious about this - that his public perception would improve if he got cooler glasses and shaved the mustache? He has a perception of being creepy-looking and I think those two items are feeding that perception. It would be easier for him to win if he looked more, shall we say, updated.

by Allison on Jul 6, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

Where is the money for this universal toddler care Gray is championing coming from? Social services are already the biggest share of the budget. His proposed solutions and the fact that many of the labor unions endorse him leads me to believe his focus is bigger government. I'd rather stick with the imperfect reform mayor than a patronage big government candidate.

by Paul on Jul 6, 2010 12:54 pm • linkreport

Apropos to his appearance, please tell me he called accusations that he's against streetcars "lewd, lascivious, salacious, and outrageous!"

by Reid on Jul 6, 2010 1:19 pm • linkreport

I'm not a small-government type by any stretch of the imagination. I support a strong social safety-net at the federal level. Hell, I'd support it at the regional level. But you can't create a Swedish-style welfare state in DC when the surrounding municipalities aren't with the program. All you do is import the extremely poor from MD, VA, and elsewhere, exporting them when they've joined the middle-class.

Right now the socioeconomic mix of DC's population is out-of-whack. Because of racist policies over the last century DC already has a much larger percentage of the very poor compared to VA or MD. It's a symptom, and a cause, of most if not all of the District's dysfunction.

We can either slowly migrate to a point where we have a DC with a diverse socioeconomic makeup. Or we can go back to the darkest days of the 80s and 90s. There is no other choice.

by oboe on Jul 6, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

Great story! I was impressed that Vincent Gray was so open, honest, and candid about things. He was really believable.

Truth, honesty, and reliability are rare attributes to come by these days, and personally, I think you should never enter or undertake any project expecting to make everyone mad. It's wiser to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. How tough can a decision be that is the majority will of the people? It's rather easy actually, in my humble opinion, if you listen, and you are open to learning. The most frightening thing to me is any politician who is 'closed to learning', or who doesn't want to 'listen to the people' who hire you. There is great value in listening to the people because from them, come ideas of such a great magnitude, that no single person can compare.

When I see a politician who understands that the 'wisdom of the crowds' statistically make better decisions than any 'one person', and the politician moves quickly and efficiently to obtain the wisdom of the crowds, and act on it, we have winner. That's one of the benefits that make social media so potent and powerful - because it can be a tool to tell anyone what the 'wisdom of the crowds' summarily thinks in short order. For example, I know what 367 mothers within 20 miles of DC are deeply concerned about right now and guess what? It's not tough decisions and who made them.

For anyone paying attention, I learned in the last hour that these mothers are concerned about what their kids are doing and if they will have water during the heat wave which is expected to reach 105 degrees on the heat wave index today. Listening to mothers (let alone voters) can be very powerful in a political race.

It's very effective (they talk a lot), and it's cheap to find out what they are happy, sad or mad about. IT'S FREE! Couple access to a steady stream of FREE INFORMATION from voters, and hardwire it to an administration that is empowered with 'RESPONSE ABILITY" and you have a key foundation for 'GOOD GOVERNMENT' in the information age.

Given my experience, people are craving for information and they want it NOW. Not yesterday, or in a press release, but NOW! Just ask Gavin Newsome or Cory Booker, they'll tell you. Based on my social media experience, people who get immediate information about how government or an agency is working well to serve them routinely score higher in my research giving credit to the person or entity providing them the information.

Reaching out to people on blogs like this, and other micro-connectivity points WORK! Reaching out to people PERIOD works! Has anyone been paying attention to how well the District of Columbia's DCRA has been doing lately? They're doing a great job, and you can 'A' politically thank your Mayor and your City Council for that because it was their collective effort and support that led to the meaningful 'reaching out' by DCRA and IT'S WORKING!

I love seeing any politician reaching out to meet with members of the social media community. I must admit that I was surprised to see that it was Vince Gray doing this as I had expected that it would have been Adrian Fenty doing this since he had successfully branded himself as being 'tech savvy' in the past.

But, true IT professionals know that carrying a blackberry doesn't exclusively qualify you as being 'tech savvy'. As a political advantage, that title would probably be best conveyed by the District's voters who have seen a candidate 'USE' technology to better serve them. As a member of the IT community (CompTIA) I was shocked to learn that young people are not one of the most fastest growing and profitable segments of the population. Wanna know who is? It's people over 50! And foreign companies such as 'iYogi' have figured that out to become very profitable - FAST! In retrospect, it's not hard to see why such a market segment would be so profitable, They frequently have a lot of time, they usually have money, and they have are patient and WANT to learn. As far as DC's upcoming election is concerned, I'll bet you lunch they will be voting IN FULL FORCE! Quietly, deliberately, and forcefully.

Your comments, Ken Archer, are very thought provoking. Here's the question that you, and the author of this article have inspired me to dwell on at the moment:

If Adrian Fenty were the Chairman of the DC Council, and Vincent Gray were the Mayor, would there be progress in the city?

Why are your answers, and why?

I'd like to know how everyone feels about this, particularly as an outside businessman investing in YOUR HOME, and OUR nation's capital.

Thanks in advance.

by David Hoffman on Jul 6, 2010 1:41 pm • linkreport

@David Hoffman: Are you affiliated with any campaign?

That all said, Gray's interviews are increasingly making him out to be a demagogue. Although I'm pleased to (finally) see some substance out of his campaign, he can't keep telling people exactly what they want to hear. Eventually, he's going to have to take sides and make tough decisions, and we need to see how he deals with that. Like many others here, the streetcar decision (and subsequent immediate backpedaling) made my scratch my head.

Oboe's right too. DC's geographic situation sucks in terms of policymaking and taxation. Fixing the socioeconomic ills of the past costs money, and unfortunately high taxes will only push the working, middle, and upper classes into Maryland and Virginia.

by andrew on Jul 6, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport

So basically what I get from this is that Gray is a "policy wonk" but he isn't really interested in taking a substantive public stand on any policy issue. He sounds like someone who wants to be a senior bureaucrat, not the leader of the nation's capital.

And Gray's technocratic credentials are hardly sterling; his tenure as an agency head in the DC government was forgettable at best. Same with his record as Council chair, which seems to mainly consist of bickering with Fenty.

I started out this race firmly on the fence. I think Fenty is a douchebag personality wise, but at least he's a plausible leader and his policies are mostly on the money, even if they are sometimes lacking in quality execution. Gray is totally uninspiring, but I was willing to be convinced that he wasn't just another hack politician. Then the streetcar debacle moved me firmly into Fenty's column.

This interview doesn't do anything to move me out of it.

by Phil on Jul 6, 2010 4:09 pm • linkreport

@Andrew No, I am not on any candidates political campaign. I do have extensive political experience though.

Here's my take of both candidates brands:

Fenty is 'off-brand', with the wrong message at the wrong time. His personal brand and his political brand don't match. Re-cap the Brand and the tagline: "Fenty. We make the tough decisions!" Sorry, but that won't get him re-elected as Mayor of DC. It does, however, setup him up for his next move and that's why many people in his campaign so misunderstand him. They see Mayor Fenty, but that's not what he sees.

Fenty was elected BEFORE the economic meltdown, and incumbents are having a hard time in the face of voter backlash. With the friends and appointees Fenty has placed into position, they aren't helping him deal with the quiet thunder of voter rage that is building against nearly all incumbents. They're a liability instead of an asset. Fenty is too young, too ambitious, and he loves the lifestyle too much. If he loses, look for him to run for Mayor again, or a much, much higher office. He has been quietly and subtly seeking a broader, national audience to gain exposure and is aiming for the Whitehouse. He's got plenty of time to perfect his strategy. He WILL run for President.

Gray is resurrecting his 'ONE CITY' brand which has led him to success in the past delivering him the Chairman's seat. He underestimated the power of the grassroots and social media powerhouse against him on the streetcar issue. They did a great job. He learned quick and he won't make the social media mis-step again. Gray is a strategic planner, who is calculating, and has the ability to pull everyone together behind one objective.

The 'ONE CITY' brand is good but he is still developing his strategy. One thing is clear, he does have a professionally managed social media expert on board. Check out an analysis of his twitter profile @grayformayor and you'll see the key elements that do support the 'ONE CITY' theme. The 'ONE CITY' theme could get him elected. Gray will win the election for DC Mayor.

So that's what I think. I know it's out there, but that's what I think.
Mayor Gray, and President Fenty.

by David Hoffman on Jul 6, 2010 6:11 pm • linkreport

Can someone fill me on how DC elections work? Is it an electorate system or a popular vote? It's a lock that Gray has the vote in Wards 7 and 8, while Fenty controls Ward 3.

by Clueless on Jul 6, 2010 6:28 pm • linkreport

There are no electoral systems except for US President. It's just popular vote. People talk about which wards which candidate will win, but it doesn't really matter - just who gets more votes citywide.

by David Alpert on Jul 6, 2010 6:48 pm • linkreport

I just don't see any leadership from Gray. He's been in this for decades, and all he has are "ideas" we've seen from EVERY politician. Nothing new here folks.

We moved back to DC precisely because of the progress being made under Mayor Fenty. We feel safer than we did before we moved; feel greater confidence in our public schools, thus making our decision to put our daughter into DCPS palatable; we have a great home in a great Ward 4 neighborhood.

Fenty is clearly losing the charm offensive to be sure, but if the complaint is that he is a "big city mayor", its time we became a big city and shed our antebellum "languid, southern village" mentality.

by Avi1969 on Jul 7, 2010 8:00 am • linkreport

In what sense does Gray mean that the streetcar funding was a misunderstanding and mistake?

His first campaign blog post on the day the funding cut was announced stated pretty clearly:

But we owe it to ourselves to have a well thought out planning process. We can’t afford the Mayor’s approach of “build now and plan later,” which only results in poor outcomes and much higher costs in the end. There needs to be proper planning, comprehensive transportation and engineering work, which is why we allocated $5 million to complete the planning process. Streetcars aren’t scheduled for completion until 2030, and over the next year, we’ll do the kind of planning that’s necessary to give us the most efficient use of our dollars.
Having published that justification, it's pretty hard for me to believe that any mistake was a sort of typo or accidental omission or any sort of misunderstanding.

by thm on Jul 7, 2010 9:03 am • linkreport

I definately see a Mayor Gray in this election, people are tired of the cowboy politics. I feel like Fenty is like a George Bush and I feel like Gray is like an Obama. I like that my Mayor would take time to think and I mean think things through before making a rash decision that could cost the city and all of the residents in the end.

by SuperS on Jul 7, 2010 1:49 pm • linkreport

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