Senior Momentum: Can Gray bridge the age divide?
Senior Momentum: Can Gray bridge the age divide? Credit: Matt Dunn

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On Tuesday afternoon, with Vincent C. Gray moments away from addressing supporters after filing papers for his mayoral run, someone had a question: “Any more young people out here?”

A Gray supporter, surveying the backdrop for his candidate’s address outside the Frank D. Reeves Center, had apparently noticed the same thing LL had noticed: a surfeit of wrinkles.

Doxie McCoy, Gray’s council press secretary, relayed the call to the back of the crowd: “They’re looking for young people!” A handful of young kids squeezed up front to stand behind the 67-year-old D.C. Council chairman as he delivered brief remarks. A pack of models affiliated with the Greater Washington Fashion Chamber of Commerce also slipped in.

Those stepping aside for the younguns were solidly of the old guard—union chief Geo T. Johnson, longtime friend and supporter Vernon Hawkins, fundraiser Judith Terra, to name a few. The rest of the crowd, more than 100 strong, was rich in union officials, ex-government types, and political junkies, many of them young at heart, few of them actually young. The freshest face in the crowd belonged to Gray’s son, Carlos.

Substitute Gray’s fellow Sharon Pratt veterans (Lorraine Green, et al.) with a couple of key Marion Barry-era characters (Marshall Brown, et al.), you would have found the same crowd standing in the same location behind Gray’s predecessor, Linda W. Cropp, when she kicked off her own mayoral run in September 2005.

We all know how that turned out: Adrian M. Fenty won every precinct in city, sending Cropp into retirement and the city’s old political order into upheaval. So why should things be any different this time?

Where the mayoralty was open in 2006, Gray has the advantage of facing a surprisingly unpopular incumbent. Where Cropp was a listless campaigner, Gray, 67, is more vigorous than his years.

But Cropp was also working with a fundraising advantage that Gray will not have. And what is Gray’s campaign about, exactly? Hard to tell from what was said at the Reeves Center event.

“We can do better in the District of Columbia,” Gray told a crowd chanting, “Run, Vincent, run!” But aside from a nod to “connecting with every voter that we possibly can to get our message out about why I will be the best candidate for mayor in the District of Columbia,” Gray did not venture an explanation of what that message might be.

“We’re gonna talk about all that as the campaign unfolds,” he said, before bring whisked off in a waiting Mercedes.

Anyone familiar with the arc of Gray’s career can take an educated guess. Call it the Rodney King platform: Can’t we all just get along? His famed “One City” logo/mantra appeared Tuesday, with an updated version festooned on signs wielded by supporters. And his new Web site offers this slogan: “One City. Leadership We Need.”

It was an underwhelming start to a campaign that will have to be near-perfect to succeed. Gray, after months of walking into rooms filled with disaffected folks begging him to run for mayor, now faces the reality of beating a younger, better-financed, better-looking Fenty and making them forget that crime is down, schools are better, and ribbons are being cut.

When it comes to physical vigor, the Fenty-Gray comparison is well overstated. Fenty might be an elite triathlete, a fierce competitor in arenas political and otherwise, but Gray isn’t exactly decrepit. LL doesn’t know any 67-year-old as sprightly as Gray. But the generation gap between the thus-far-declared mayoral candidates isn’t physical so much as philosophical. The crowd gathered Tuesday at the Reeves Center sees Fenty’s sins as something approaching the biblical: Thou shall respect your elders.

Ignoring, for all intents and purposes, the public employee unions? Naah. Firing DCPS teachers and having cops escort some out of classrooms? Uh-uh. Blowing off a meeting with Dorothy Height? Hell no.

Gray has dipped his toe into 21st-century campaigning. At the kickoff, he had a “new media director” in attendance, snapping photos later posted to Twitter and Facebook accounts and a slick new Web site. In his remarks, Gray referred to himself as “a dyed-in-the-wool homey.”

But can Gray’s ideas keep up? Where’s he at on mayoral control of the school system? What about bike lanes? Performance-based budgeting? Smart growth? Housing first?

It may not much matter. The base that’s thus far stood up for Vince Gray isn’t looking for innovation.

“He’s a steady hand,” says Rick Powell, political director of the Metro Washington labor council, which has yet to endorse a candidate. “He’s not flashy, he’s not computer-savvy, but he’s a steady hand.…Vince says, ‘You took a chance [on Fenty], and it was a disaster,” Powell says. “’Now I’m gonna give you a another chance.’”

But the base may not be enough.

Athletes Stand Up for Fenty

When word leaked Monday that Gray would be running for mayor, political junkies salivated, union officials cheered, and even local athletes took notice.

You see, under Fenty, it’s been a halcyon era for folks who, like Hizzoner, push themselves to the limit in marathons, triathlons, and competitive cycling. Fenty’s opened new recreation facilities, attracted new top-level competitions, and is an accomplished athlete himself.

Gray is an athlete, too, though he prefers different pursuits—baseball and hand dancing, to be precise.

Monday afternoon, Chuck Brodsky, founder of the Nation’s Triathlon and a close ally of Fenty’s, mass e-mailed his fellow competitors and issued a call to arms: “The benefits we’ve enjoyed under Mayor Fenty and our way of life as athletes, cyclists, runners, sports enthusiasts and competitors in the District of Columbia is in jeopardy,” he wrote. “Don’t stand idle. Now is your time to be heard.”

The e-mail continues: “You’ve never allowed anyone to tell you how to live your life. That’s the hallmark of our A type personalities. Now is your time to stand up, be heard, and support Mayor Fenty in his re-election bid to preserve the gains of our city and our quality of life.”

“[Y]our support,” Brodsky writes, “is non-negotiable.” He requested athletes that help with daily door-knocking or post a yard sign to preserve a “robust and athlete friendly city.”

Brodsky, reached Tuesday, deems the response to the e-mail “overwhelming.”

“My inbox is flooded with people who want to help,” he says. “Not just themselves, but they want me to bring a dozen [signs] to give them to their neighbors.”

Brodsky adds: “This is our time to stand up. We’ve never had it so good for athletes…so we want to keep it going.”

Drug Supplier Now Supplying D.C. Campaigns With Donations

In the annals of D.C. political history, the name Hassan H. Mohammadi has been all but forgotten—relegated to the depths of LexisNexis and a couple of mentions in Dream City, that indispensible chronicle of ’80s Washington.

But 20 years ago, Mohammadi was the talk of the town—a friend of Marion Barry’s throughout the mayor-for-life’s ’80s party heyday, he was first among a cadre of witnesses to testify in federal court that he supplied Barry with drugs, watched him use them, and often used them along with him.

Now, two decades later, Mohammadi’s name is popping up again—on checks recently cut to District candidates.

The Fenty 2010 campaign reported accepting three checks last month totaling $6,000 connected to Mohammadi. Jeff Smith, a Democrat challenging incumbent Jim Graham for the Ward 1 council seat, received $1,000 from Mohammadi and a member of his family.

Mohammadi, now 55, was described in a 1989 Washington Post story as being part of a “new circle of friends and advisers to whom Barry has turned for counsel, support and what the mayor calls ‘depressurizing.’”

Months later, after Barry was arrested for using crack cocaine in the infamous Vista Hotel bust, it became clear just what “depressurizing” meant, and what Mohammadi did to facilitate it. During Barry’s trial in the hot summer of 1990, Mohammadi testified that he gave Barry cocaine “about 30 times, maybe more,” dating back to 1985, when he opened his Pardis Cafe in Georgetown. In 1987, he told jurors, he delivered two grams of coke straight to Barry’s office in the District Building. He also testified that he also gave opium to the mayor.

At Barry’s trial, Mohammadi actually demonstrated how Barry would do coke—cut into lines with a credit card and snorted through a rolled-up dollar bill. He also showed the method for smoking opium—heating it on the back of a spoon, sucking the vapor through a straw.

Mohammadi’s favors to Barry—whom he unfailingly referred to as “Mr. Mayor”—didn’t end with his drug supply. The Post reported that Barry would stay as many as three nights a week at Mohammadi’s apartment, often showing up late at night. During a 1987 trip to the Bahamas, Mohammadi testified, Barry insisted that Mohammadi pay for a hotel room for one of Barry’s girlfriends. He also told jurors that, at a Bahamian casino, he gave Barry $3,000 in chips that were never paid back.

His labors on behalf of Barry were not without reward: A firm connected to Mohammadi was awarded a $195,000 lottery marketing contract—a deal that drew a federal probe. The Post also reported that Barry got a relative of Mohammadi’s a city job. And in exchange for his testimony, Mohammadi did only three months in jail on drug charges, and a federal judge agreed not to deport the Iranian national.

Until he flipped after the Vista bust, “I was a true friend to Mr. Mayor,” he testified, according to the Post. “I was always there for Mr. Mayor.”

His interest in the current Mr. Mayor is less clear.

A Fenty campaign rep contacted by LL was unaware of Mohammadi’s infamy. Smith, reached by LL earlier this week, said, “I don’t know him personally.” He later reported that Mohammadi’s contributions were solicited by a member of his campaign committee, one he declined to name citing his opponent’s “reprisatory” ways.

Smith said that, to his knowledge, Mohammadi is a caterer. Mohammadi reported to the Fenty campaign that he is owner of Zodiac Restaurant & Lounge, located in a Dover, Del., Holiday Inn. He has kept a low profile professionally and politically since the Barry trial, though his wife gave $2,000 to Cropp in 2006.

This much is clear: The political contributions could have gone a long way toward covering an outstanding debt Mohammadi owes.

In 2007, Mohammadi was sued over a debt related to Filibuster’s Bar and Grill, a now-defunct Thomas Circle watering hole he co-owned. In 2008, a judge found that he owed more than $8,200 to Jordan Kitt’s Music, a College Park–based piano retailer.

LL earlier this week reached Thomas Mauro, lawyer for Jordan Kitt’s, who says that his client yet to collect on the bill for a grand piano. He was very interested to hear about Mohammadi’s recent generosity.

Last week, LL paid a visit to Mohammadi’s Woodley Park townhome (assessed at $1.4 million, incidentally). He wasn’t home but LL left a card with a family member; he has not called.

LL did reach Mohammadi’s lawyer. Why does his client have money to give to politicians but not to pay his piano bill? LL asked. “I have no information on that,” the lawyer said.

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