Greater Greater Washington

Should urbanists be nervous about Vince Gray? Part 3: Does Gray believe in Smart Growth?

This one is easy. On Smart Growth, Gray is on the right side.


Image from Google Street View.

Sorry, antis. It's true that many who oppose a growing city and think that a three-story townhouse is a skyscraper supported Vince Gray early, figuring he must be better than Mayor Fenty. However, they would be disappointed with a Gray mayoralty.

Gray recently walked along Wisconsin Avenue from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights with a group of residents of the area. They pointed out the many glaring flaws in Wisconsin's streetscape. There's the CVS at Wisconsin and Brandywine, where the sidewalk becomes a sharply sloped ramp to a roof parking deck leaving a 2-foot space for pedestrians between fences and telephone poles. Near the other end, there's the Western bus garage, a half-block blank wall right along Wisconsin and literally atop the Metro. And there are plenty of examples in between.

Gray nodded eagerly when residents and even his own campaign manager outlined their ideas for how Tenley Circle could feel more like a college town if more retail and housing accompanied American's plans to move the law school there. And his reaction bordered on incredulity when Friendship Heights residents told him that many people would oppose any new buildings on the site of the bus garage.

Gray is also very excited for the potential of "downtown Ward 7," the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, to become a walkable hub for the surrounding neighborhoods (complete with streetcars!) His approach and that of Mayor Fenty may differ a bit only in implementation: Gray's approach is to plan then act, while Fenty's Office of the Deputy Mayor seems far more focused in simply closing real estate deals.

Sometimes getting the deal done moves the ball forward more than a plan, but when buildings last for 50 years or more, moving hastily can lock in bad design for a generation. In Ward 7, the Donatelli development at the northwest corner of Minnesota and Benning has shaped up to be a real disappointment even in ways that have little to do with the economy. DMPED chose Donatelli's plan despite community consensus around another bid. DMPED also plunked a parking lot down at 5th and I and totally blew it with the Tenley Library.

On development, Gray's approach will be to create a good plan and hear out all the opponents before moving ahead, while Fenty's approach has been to move ahead without any plans or much listening. Here, both approaches have merit, and I'd give a small edge to Gray's. Perhaps some bold planning and community engagement could have resulted in improvements along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor, where recent development has more often produced a boring low-scale bank rather than anything transformative.

But as one Smart Growth proponent recently pointed out, we are fortunate. We have two candidates who have made a clear commitment to many parts of a Smart Growth vision. They'd implement it with different styles and might focus on different elements, but four years from now, there will be more housing opportunities near commercial corridors and Metro stations regardless of who is Mayor.

Fenty and Gray share a lot of other policy ideas as well. Education reform? Fenty's for it. Gray's for it.

Next: But what about streetcars?

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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While I think this entry if very facile in many ways, I'll comment on this comment His approach and that of Mayor Fenty may differ a bit only in implementation: Gray's approach is to plan then act, while Fenty's Office of the Deputy Mayor seems far more focused in simply closing real estate deals. I read a headline in the Examiner that said Gray is leading Fenty in $, 2 to 1. I wonder where that money's coming from?

by Jazzy on Aug 12, 2010 10:33 am • linkreport

That was in the last 2 months, $300,000 to $700,000. But Fenty has raised $4.7 million total to Gray's $1.3, according to the Post.

by David Alpert on Aug 12, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

Right, I see. I also read that Gray's not advertising on TV. Still, where is the money coming from in the last two months for Gray? My point being that though people (some people) would like to think so, I'm not so sure that Gray would not kowtow to the developers like every single mayor has done before.

by Jazzy on Aug 12, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

Also, Jazzy, if you don't think the post goes into the nuance of some issues, please feel free to illuminate the details you think should be included.

by David Alpert on Aug 12, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

Fenty and Gray share a lot of other policy ideas as well. Education reform? Fenty's for it. Gray's for it.

Sorry, but there is a lot more to it. Fenty and Gray are miles apart. For those who don't follow it, education policy in DC is about much more than Michelle Rhee.

Fenty's "education" plan is dramatic, attention-grabbing top-down reform of DCPS and nothing else. He tried to reduce funding for charter schools, which educate over 26,000 of DC's public schools students (more than the entire Pittsburgh or St. Louis systems) and his administration has repeatedly flouted the laws that give charter schools right of first refusal on excess city properties -- even former school buildings! He has not met a private developer that he likes less than a successful charter school operator.

Fenty has ignored UDC, ignored early childhood education, and ignored the charter sector. He has made OSSE (the state agency responsible for education) and the Deputy Mayor of Education's office subservient to Chancellor Rhee.

Gray, on the other hand, has been working with UDC, charter parents, and early childhood advocates to ensure adequate resources for a comprehensive P-20 system that addresses the whole education spectrum and advocated for transparency and accountability, not just for the classroom teachers in DCPS but for the leaders of each agency.

I get that GGW is a transportation blog, and I expect to see a long entry with 100 comments on the candidates' position on streetcars, but please don't reduce education to a one liner like "meh, they're all the same."

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 12, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

Gray is for whatever you want him to be for. He won't give you anything substantive, though. He'll study it, release a plan with some vague promises and no indication of funding, and then tell the other side he's with them too.

by jcm on Aug 12, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

Honest question: Have there been any reasonably thorough polls on the mayor race recently? Based on the proportion of yard signs, I'd assumed that Fenty's campaign was dead in the water.

(Also, can the city please slap Vincent Orange's campaign with a citation for widespread vandalism? There's no way that his flyering/signing campaign is remotely legal.)

by andrew on Aug 12, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

Gray is for whatever you want him to be for. He won't give you anything substantive, though. He'll study it, release a plan with some vague promises and no indication of funding, and then tell the other side he's with them too.

What jcm said.

I'm not sure what we're supposed to take away from an article that says, essentially, "Gray Walks With Urban Activists, Tells Them What They Want To Hear." All this nodding and "incredulity" might be a bit more comforting if it were his standard stump-speech rather than low-level retail politicking. Meanwhile love him or hate him, Fenty == Gabe Klein. And, love her or hate her, Fenty == Michelle Rhee.

If Gray's got a problem with these appointments, he has *every* opportunity to detail why, and what he'd do differently. The rest is fluff.

Also, "Gray's for education reform"? Which candidate is "for the DCPS status quo"? It's meaningless.

The only thing we do know is that Gray's going to take his eye off what should be the *immediate* goal of totally reforming PS-12 education in order to, as Ward 1 Guy put it: "ensure adequate resources for a comprehensive P-20 system that addresses the whole education spectrum".

While we're at it, why not take resources away from DCPS to make UDC into one of the best scientific research grad schools in the country, dammit! We can do it!

by oboe on Aug 12, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Slightly off-topic, but what the heck's up with Captcha these days. Either I'm going senile, or the word images are getting harder and harder to decipher.

by oboe on Aug 12, 2010 11:20 am • linkreport

Put me in the +1 column for this comment:

"Gray Walks With Urban Activists, Tells Them What They Want To Hear."

by Paul S on Aug 12, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

I'm with JCM and Oboe on this one. I'll also add that I am scared shitless that Gray is going to win this. I live in MTP. Gray signs are all over the place. I've seen them all over west of the park as well. If Fenty has 5 million bucks then when does he plan on spending it?! I would suggest now. I grew up in DC and while I often get nostalgic for the gritty, lackluster city of my youth I much prefer living in the DC of the present. (Maybe I'm just getting old) In the midst of a this recession Fenty has managed to redo parks. add bike lanes, forward the streetcar agenda, share bikes, make numerous street-scape improvements, build new libraries, rehab schools, fire P.O.S teachers. (some of whom are probably to blame for my being a dumb-ass) So excuse me if I don't give a hot damn if he awarded no bid contracts so long as we got what we paid for. Lets keep the ball moving forward.

by Anon on Aug 12, 2010 12:07 pm • linkreport

The choice is still not stark enough to have me dumping Fenty for Gray. Fenty's had some major problems, but Gray has yet to convince me he'd do better. Given that Fenty's also had some major successes while Gray has not (that midnight streetcar cut still stings), I'd still rather go with the devil I know.

by OctaviusIII on Aug 12, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

Every politician tells you what you want to hear. What do we know about Gray's actual track record on development-related issues?

by BeyondDC on Aug 12, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

I guess GGW needs to examine the candidates positions on smart growth, but there's not much difference. Most voters will probably make their decisions based on two issues:

1) Personality. Fenty is arrogant hard charging and wants to get stuff done, but he does not listen well. Gray, more personable, seems to listen much better, but he may be much slower.

2) Education. Rhee is either fixing the schools or destroying them.

As a parent with 2 kids in DCPS, that's very impressed with Rhee, I'm going to suck it up and ignore Fenty's really annoying personality. As important as smart growth is to me, its just part of the equation in this election.

by mike on Aug 12, 2010 1:56 pm • linkreport

"Gray Walks With Urban Activists, Tells Them What They Want To Hear."

That's not fair. I certainly didn't want to hear Gray's plan is to process development to death, but that's certainly what I got from this.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 12, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

I think the problem is that we need a Fenty as a 'Director of Development' or some such other 'marketing guru' who comes up with good ideas ... But we need a Gray as a CEO who can actually plan out and execute those good ideas. Together, they'd make a great pair. Individually, neither can/will accomplish anything.

And let's not be fooled by the 'improvements' we see around us. All of them were long in the pipe-line before Fenty arrived on the scene. He's getting credit for the long years and hard work of his predesssors as well as some (not all) Councilmembers who actually made all this happen 'in the back end' and out of the lime lite. But aren't unfortunately electable in DC as mayor because they happen to be white.

And just like he shouldn't be getting credit for stuff that was already well planned well in advance, we're not going to see the results of his poor planning until the next mayorial term is well in to effect ... or later. The lack of planning in regards to Streetcars and DDOT initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg in respect to the negative ramifications of which will only come to fruition long after the election.

by Lance on Aug 12, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

* limelight

by Lance on Aug 12, 2010 2:27 pm • linkreport

@J.D. Hammond - the Onion-esque nature of the quote may have flown over your head. I think the point is whoever he's meeting with that day he's going to tell them what they want to hear. Even people like Leroy Thorpe. In the end if he's Mayor and doesn't accomplish the things he told these constituencies he'll hide behind the process (i.e. we considered those ideas).

by Paul S on Aug 12, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

I keep seeing comments from people saying that Fenty gets things done; that's why we should support his reelection, and not worry about his "Ready! Fire! Aim" approach. Instead of just swallowing Fenty campaign rhetoric, please think about what Mr. Fenty has actually gotten done -- a review of his flyers show that he has definitely succeeded in spending a lot of our capital budget. That's true. The only part of that spending that has been investigated closely found that we paid hack "engineer" fraternity brothers of Fenty $150,000, for what the incompetent engineer cronies, who never passed the engineering license exam, turned around and paid a competent engineer in PG County $70,000 to do. And then there was the management fee of 9% paid to the incompetent fraternity brother company to do the work that their partner actually did, while the cronies pocketed additional "management" fees from each subcontractor, a practice that established contractors consulted by the investigator said was far beyond the industry standard. If the $82 million spent on the parks and rec contracts has this rate of fraud and abuse (costing approximately 2 times as much as it should have, in the case of the engineering), should that really qualify Mr. Fenty as a "doer", or as a colossal waster of DC tax dollars? Based on what I have seen of the Office of Public Education Facilities Management, my guess is that we will find similar amounts of wasted money in their contracts, when all is said and done. Those parents in Ward 3 who are so enamored of Fenty because of his "doing", will feel pretty sheepish about their vote to reelect Fenty when they find out later that schools like Murch won't get their major modernizations because the promised funding was squandered on the projects that OPEFM rushed through to get done before the primary.

Other than spending money on projects (several of which were planned and funded by the Williams administration) and getting control of the schools (which Vince Gray played a major role in getting through the Council, many of whose members did not want to take power from the elected School Board)and hiring Michelle Rhee, what has Fenty actually DONE? We are still squandering a huge percentage of our schools budget on paying for special education and transportation to send kids with special needs outside the city (this does not appear to be a Rhee priority). We have a dynamic head of UDC, who has finally gotten a community college off the ground, despite the fact that Fenty tried to hijack the Trustee's hiring process and bring in his own person, after the Board was down to four finalists, and Fenty's own Deputy Mayor for Education was part of the process. We lost hundreds of potential affordable housing units because Fenty delayed implementation of Inclusionary Zoning for almost 2 years, catering to his development friends. Or there's the summer jobs program, which has been a debacle every year, essentially teaching teens that, if you work for the government, you can get paid to do nothing (that is, if you are lucky enough to actually receive your paycheck). Is our broken procurement system, which delays virtually every agency effort which requires purchasing or hiring a consultant or architect, fixed? Has he finally overhauled our personnel system, which makes it costly and ridiculously time-consuming to hire competent people? (No.) Do we have a clearly-articulated plan for how we are going to create jobs for our citizens, achieve a more sustainable city, provide adequate grocery stores (like, more than just 1 full-sized store in Ward 8)? (Incidentally, Fenty's brochure claims responsibility for that store, a new Giant on the former Camp Simms site, even though all the work was done by the Williams administration and the William C. Smith Company.) Let's not forget Poplar Point, Hill East, SW Waterfront, Hurt Home, and many other DC real estate assets which were awarded to developers, and then left to languish. Or the inexperienced people that Fenty has nominated for important boards and commissions like the NCPC, BZA and Zoning Commission.

Yes, Vince Gray doesn't look "cool". Yes, he made a mistake on the streetcar, but unlike Fenty, he actually admitted he made a mistake and then fixed it. But he is committed to following the Comprehensive Plan. He is committed to hiring qualified people, not just hacks, for our boards and commission. He is committed to doing small area plans for Tenleytown and Friendship Heights that will increase their vitality. He is committed to carrying on the transformation of our public schools, charter AND DCPS, in a way that goes beyond the cult of personality of the leader at the top. He doesn't need talking points to discuss policy -- he actually understands it. And those are some of the reasons that I think the choice is clear to elect Vince Gray for Mayor.

by realWashingtonian on Aug 12, 2010 2:51 pm • linkreport

Paul: I know what was meant by the faux-quote, it's in the style of "Shorter Vince Gray" or "Shorter GGW". The point I was trying to make was that it's entirely too kind to Gray.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 12, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

So, "realWashingtonian", are you trying to imply that Ward 3 residents are artificialWashingtonians, or that Gray actually apologized for getting caught eliminating transit funds from parts of the city outside Wards 7 and 8 (which he didn't), or that his voter base is actually interested in developing either of those wards rather than spraying "GENTRIFICATION KILLS" tags all over the city?

Or are you trying to imply all of those things at once?

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 12, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

I tend to agree with realWashingtonian above. If one begins to look critically at Mr. Fenty's record, the recurring theme is taking credit for the work of others, and in the case of his fraternity brothers and hangers-oners, taking skim of taxpayer dollars in the process.

A fair read of David's article here suggests that Mr. Gray understands what makes neighborhoods vibrant and special, and is willing to take steps to improve all corners of the city. Yes, the focus needs to be in improving education so the children of the District can grow to be productive members of society, but at the same time, the schools need to be improved to retain people with kids who are here, now (this year marked a backslide in school scores for the first time in a decade - thanks Ms. Rhee!).

I am willing to give Mr. Gray a second look because some of the issues of importance to me are ones that he seems to embrace.

If others are like me, it will be a real blow to Mr. Fenty. I have been a steadfast Fenty supporter, but the more I learn, the more I feel that another 4 years of this will bring our city closer to the brink of financial ruin and another control board.

by William on Aug 12, 2010 3:10 pm • linkreport

I'm sad that education policy in the District boils down to love Michelle/hate Michelle. Please read my post and think about other education issues, like school building construction/repurposing, higher education, early childhood education, and charter schools. Not to mention governance of the _state_ infrastructure, like the state office of education (OSSE) that is responsible for federal grants, teacher licensure policy, and state data colleciton and reporting.

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 12, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

During a walking tour with a group of Klingons, Vince Gray agreed with them that the Romulans were a significant problem and he'd work with the Klingons on the Smart Elimination plan for dealing with their mortal enemy.

It's election season. Any politician that doesn't tell an interest group what it wants to hear clearly isn't smart enough to be a politician.

by Fritz on Aug 12, 2010 5:59 pm • linkreport

I think, if you look at Gray's record with respect to supporting the Comprehensive Plan, advocating for a revitalized Skyland Mall, and steadfast support for a properly planned streetcar system since the idea was first floated in the late 1990's, the supposition of a politician saying anything everyone wants to hear is off the mark in this case.

by Andrew on Aug 12, 2010 6:17 pm • linkreport

I just don't understand, how much damage a Mayor needs to do before folks say it's enouhgh. The 30 million that was squaundered in the 2008 SYEP isn't mentioned much when the I'll do better next term is mentioned.A leopard can't change his spot's, I just think we need to cut our losses and move on. Thanks but no thanks Adrian, why don't you and Peter try going into business together.

by another native on Aug 12, 2010 6:33 pm • linkreport

another native strikes a chord, given this article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/12/AR2010081206269.html?hpid=newswell

by William on Aug 12, 2010 10:47 pm • linkreport

I find the "native" posturing interesting. I think part of Gray's appeal is smearing those who were ever attracted to DC as foreigners usurping the city, who somehow have less right to live here than people who have been trapped for generations.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 12, 2010 10:50 pm • linkreport

J.D. Hammond, you totally miss the point, take your attention off the messenger and listen to the message. Vince Gray is totally welcoming to folks that are attracted this town,that's what keeps vitality in a city, just not to the extent of ignoring folks that have been towing the line from the get go. So it's all good, it's about inclusion we know that link has been missing as of late and is desperately needed.

by another native on Aug 13, 2010 9:18 pm • linkreport

realWashingtonian-

You hit the nail on its head about the frat boy thing- its all about the funny handshake crap that drives up costs and drives down quantity and quality.

ALL frat order membership of any official should be public knowledge.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Aug 15, 2010 8:48 pm • linkreport

Fenty for Mayor!!!! Uneducated voters who are blinded by Gray's manipulating persona and anti Fenty tactics will destroy the District! Grays only fuel for Mayor is he doesn't like Fenty, nothing more! Fenty 2010!

by Michael on Aug 18, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

I am sooo sorry for being so delayed on this topic-due to my just discovering this site. But, this is what I am going to say. Yes, Fenty did a lot for the city. But to my observation,with the consideration of "Smart Growth" and development,the focus has been mainly on NW, The SW Wa(erfront,The H Street Corridor,Rhode Island Avenue and anything dealing with Capitol Hill and most of Downtown DC.Simply put,Fenty has put much of his emphasis and footprint on everything except for "Far Northeast" and "Far Southeast". However, where is the concern for any type of "Development", "Smart Growth" or at the least-basic services and resources to make the eastern part of DC a "Livable Community"? While areas outside of this marker, as well as those who've previously bitched and complained about the election of the new Mayor,has also enjoyed or had the privilege of reaping or at best receiving the benefits of residing in "livable" or "up and coming" communities. However, had the former mayor also stop to take heed that the District's line did not stop at New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue or The SE/SW Freeway,then maybe he would've continued to remain mayor of this city. You all can have a BF for all that I care, but the truth is that the very same people who voted for Gray voted fo Fenty first. Even before he started to build the city or half of the city up, most of you who are complaining about Gray now, were the main ones who did not care to vote for Fenty back then. With this being said, stop your constant complaining because at least you have your "Livable,Walkable" community that you have to go home to where you can easily walk up the street or next door or go downstairs to go grocery shopping or get your basic needs met. As for me, I am currently shopping at a grocery store out in Maryland after leaving work. Yeah, that's right. My money is going straight out to Maryland,because the community in which I live in is affordable, but does not have the amenities that Fenty has graced you all with. So please excuse me for not giving a rat's ass about your complaint nor having sympathy for your "Pity Parties". And yes, just to clear things up- I am a Homeowner thatks not in default, I've been legitimately and gainfully employed and residually paid since the age of 20. I've received two Educational Degrees aside from my High School Diploma,and I work for a Federal Agency-just to dispell any of the myths or stereotypes that you may perceive a NE Ward 7 resident to be. I am dedicated to this side of DC because I view it as the "Underdog". However, I also see what this community can be. Oh yeah, let me also reach a little deeper than that, I've live in Columbia Heights when it was a slum. I've lived in Shaw when it took 8 years for the Metro to be completed. I remember when the only thing on U Street was Ben's Chili Bowl. I remember when SW was a "Hole". And you had to know someone in both, Ledroit Park and H Street or you risk a beat down if not worse. But look at it now. This is the potential that I see with my community. But, I guess it wasn't enough for Fenty, which led to his downfall.

by Char on Nov 17, 2010 8:06 am • linkreport

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