Gray's Ward 2 town hall sidesteps divisions
The warm reception given to expectant Mayor Vincent Gray at the Ward 2 Town Hall last night stood in stark contrast with the 27% Ward 2 support Gray received on Election Day. Ward 2 includes my particular Georgetown precinct which supported Gray's opponent more than any other in DC.
The event, held at Foundry United Methodist Church, was to have been 2 hours of discussion with Gray on the topics that matter most to Ward 2 residents. Gray has said, and said again last night, that the burden is on him to reach out to segments of the city that didn't support him.
While I voted for Fenty, Gray's stated commitment to honestly addressing divisions and unify our city has inspired me. Unfortunately, these divisions weren't really bridged last night, largely because they weren't discussed.
The event started 45 minutes late. After a rousing introduction by Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who
endorsed neither candidate supported Fenty in the primary, as well as 10 minutes of recognition of endless well-known audience members, many of whom live in other wards, Gray spoke for 15 minutes and took 40 minutes of questions.
Polls show that the top issue for Ward 2 residents is education. Ward 2 parents have reversed a decades-long trend by increasing enrollment of their children in public schools, largely due to changes implemented by Chancellor Rhee. The in-boundary kindergarten enrollment at my elementary school increased from 40 to 58 this year alone.
While Gray spoke in emphatic terms about his commitment to education reform, he offered no details about the labor contract, the IMPACT system for measuring performance, the basis for hiring and firing teachers or the fate of Hardy Middle School. While his web site indicates he agrees with Rhee on these issues, he has also challenged many of Rhee's teacher firings. Not a single question was asked about education, save for a question about a particular board that set standards for special education.
I appreciated Gray's vision for battling unemployment in Ward 7 (19%), Ward 8 (30-35%) and across the city (10%). Issues in Wards 7 and 8 affect everyone, as we are truly one city that rises and falls together.
The unemployed largely lack the skills required in most job openings, Gray said, and have few options for attaining skills. Gray wants to add skills training at the Community College of DC, add technical and trades classes in every public high school and revamp the Department of Employment Services. There's no reason that less than 20% of DC cops and firemen should live in DC while we have rampant unemployment.
However, when a question was asked about affordable housing, a challenge across the city, Gray again offered no details.
As I surveyed the audience, I noticed that, except for the elected officials, I knew almost none of the attendees. Virtually everyone I know in Ward 2, where I've lived for 12 years, voted for Fenty as I did. While Gray can't be blamed if folks don't show up to his Town Hall, after attending myself, I ended up wishing I had spent the evening with my family instead.
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