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Thirty minutes into Mayor Vince Gray’s meeting Tuesday with the D.C. Council, the promise of free breakfast had lured only three councilmembers. For a moment, Gray stopped touting the District’s improved bond rating so he could be heard over the sounds of Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander shuffling in.
“I’ll wait,” Gray said.
It was a rare concession from the lame-duck mayor, who hasn’t shown much willingness to kill time in the final months of his administration. Gray still wants to accomplish more than any lame-duck mayor has a right to expect. If only the Council—and his own office—believed him. As he prepares to make one more push for his agenda, Gray faces staffers preparing for their post-Gray careers and councilmembers waiting out the remaining days of his term.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this. As recently as this winter, Gray was acting like someone with another four years to go. Even federal agents probing how he won the mayoralty in the first place couldn’t stop Gray from proposing ambitious new initiatives like a new D.C. United soccer stadium and a replacement hospital for wards 7 and 8.
Then, exactly six months ago, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser whomped Gray in the primary. But being rejected by the Democratic party and abandoned by his east-of-the-river voting base hasn’t dampened Gray’s ambitions, at least publicly. The soccer-stadium plans remain (although the new hospital has run into obstacles with the Council). Gray’s even still trying to fill empty positions, to the consternation of mayoral front-runner Bowser.
Unluckily for Gray, the staff that helped him weather one of the most scandal-plagued mayoral terms in District history isn’t playing along. Exactly a week after Gray’s primary loss, District Department of Transportation head Terry Bellamy bailed, already preceded out the door by Nicholas Majett, Gray’s head of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Victor Hoskins left soon after.
Even the mayor’s own office is thinning out. Razor-mouthed mayoral flack Pedro Ribeiro ditched Gray to take a job with the Department of Homeland Security in July, while policy director Janene Jackson—once seen as critical to brokering any stadium deal with a restless Council before Gray leaves office—left in August. Gray community-affairs honcho Steve Glaude will be the next to clean out his desk. A diehard loyalist who took a break from Gray’s administration to work on the mayor’s faltering mayoral bid, Glaude leaves his cabinet position this month to run an affordable-housing group.
Wilson Building wags speaking on background describe Glaude’s exit as falling especially hard on Gray, who now faces the final months of his administration without a confidante skilled in the murky but essential world of constituent service.
All that might not be so surprising for Gray. Mayoral staffers facing the prospect of unemployment once Bowser, David Catania, or Carol Schwartz wins the mayoral suite would naturally start job-hunting. But Gray also has to check his remaining mayoral ambitions against a particularly restless Council, which didn’t even blink in July when it voted to override Gray’s veto of its budget.
Even the Council’s own busy lame ducks don’t spare the mayor any sympathy. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, soon to be out of a job thanks to his own failed mayoral bid, is keeping busy with an upcoming hearing on a “jumpout” police search technique that’s been described as the Metropolitan Police Department’s own version of stop-and-frisk. Ward 1’s Jim Graham, ousted in the Democratic primary, took a bite out of Gray last month over the city’s surprisingly unself-critical report on social services’ handling of missing child Relisha Rudd.
Even one-time Gray pal Marion Barry is jumping overboard. Despite fragile health, Barry campaigned in vintage “caravans” on Gray’s behalf during the primary, driving around in a megaphone-equipped car in which he urged passers-by to meet Gray. Campaign palm cards produced by a Gray supporter showed Barry and Gray standing together. Caption: “It is us against the world.”
Nowadays, LL can add Barry to “Team World.” Last week, Barry stood on the steps of the Wilson Building to join At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, demanding to know where a purported $1 billion intended to be spent with District small businesses had gone. Barry urged the crowd to join him in a chant about his erstwhile ally.
“Tell Vince Gray, ‘Where is the money?’!” Barry said along with a pack of pissed off labor and contractor types.
While Gray’s atrophied political muscles haven’t caused him a personnel problem yet, that could change. Last week, Gray’s attempt to confirm new DDOT director Matthew T. Brown to a board position on the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority hinged on whether his mayoral replacement would be able to ask for Brown’s resignation. (They can.) Even putting that question aside, Bowser, apparently looking toward her likely mayoral victory, declined to vote on a motion to confirm Brown as DDOT head.
Asked whether his lame-duck status is behind his hassles at the Council, Gray usually refers the question back to the councilmembers doing the hassling.
November’s election doesn’t bode well for any attempt Gray could have to claim retroactive credit for the D.C. United stadium, a potential jewel in his legacy. Several candidates running to replace Catania in his Council seat have questioned the deal, while all three leading mayoral candidates have expressed concern over it.
The most immediate test of Gray’s remaining juice will be much less monumental: getting a single cabinet official confirmed. Gray announced last week that he’s picked Daniel Lucas, a deputy inspector general in the Navy, to fill the vacant inspector general post.
Unlike DDOT’s Matthews, Lucas’ potential six-year term actually will be secure no matter who succeeds Gray. Making the situation even more difficult for the mayor, Lucas actually doesn’t meet the exceptionally strict requirements to be inspector general, holdovers from an 11-year-old bureaucratic feud over the office.
To get Lucas into office, Gray will first have to rewrite the law over a restive Council and the interests of two councilmembers who might prefer to pick the person charged with poking holes in their potential mayoral administration themselves. A previous attempt in May to change the law, backed by Gray again, had to be pulled in the face of Council opposition.
Announcing his pick, Gray said that, thanks to his lame-duck status, he’s the “perfect person” to put Lucas forward.
Except for, y’know, almost anyone else.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery