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The life of a big-city mayor ain’t easy. Just ask Mayor Vince Gray, who spent part of Tuesday morning inspecting the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall. Gray gave interviews to various media outlets to highlight the District’s lack of voting rights, fixed Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry’s tie, and posed for about 1,436 pictures in front of the monument.
It was a nice moment for Gray, who was a young college student back in 1963 when he heard King deliver the “I Have a Dream” speech. Gray says he was at the Lincoln Memorial for the speech, about 50 to 75 yards away from King.
“I was close,” says Gray. “It was absolutely spine-tingling to be there.”
But just about the same time that Gray was reminiscing about that day, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, a friend of the mayor, released a damning report saying the early missteps of his administration had done significant damage to the District government’s reputation. Cheh’s report focused on the hiring of children of senior elected officials, a campaign volunteer, and the infamous former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown, who’s accused the mayor of promising him a job in return for attacking former Mayor Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail.
The hiring scandals, Cheh’s report says, “dampened the robust goodwill that ordinarily accompanies a new Executive’s first months in office—goodwill that allows a new administration to craft and implement its vision for improving the District.”
The report doesn’t have much in the way of new news—many of the people listed as being improper or illegal hires are long gone from District employment—and its release got buried a few hours later by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in the region. But it’s yet another chapter in the unflattering narrative that Gray’s administration is all about returning the keys of power to the District’s politically connected old guard. Indeed, the Cheh report suggests most of the blame for the administration’s missteps falls on a trio of Gray’s friends: confidante Lorraine Green, her protégé and Gray’s former chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall, and former human-resources director Judy Banks. Like Gray, Green and Banks worked for former Mayor Sharon Pratt.
Gray declined to comment on the report Tuesday morning, saying he hadn’t yet seen it. (He later said he took full responsibility for the early screwups in his administration.) Gray didn’t seem happy that Cheh was reminding everyone of his rocky start on the same day that he was trying to celebrate King and promote the District’s voting rights.
“I guess she did it when she thought it was the right thing to do,” Gray said of Cheh’s timing.
But it looks like Gray has timing tricks up his own sleeve. Multiple sources within the Gray administration have confirmed to LL that Hizzoner is set to announce a new chief of staff shortly. The incoming boss, the sources say with near certainty, is Christopher Murphy, who’s currently deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
After Gray fired Hall five months ago, he appointed his deputy mayor for public safety, Paul Quander, as his interim chief of staff. Wilson Building sources tell LL Quander wanted to keep the job permanently, but his sometimes gruff demeanor has put off other Gray staffers. Another name that’s been floated as a possible chief-of-staff candidate is Lloyd Jordan, who worked for former Mayor Anthony Williams.
Murphy didn’t respond to several calls for comment. But after piecing together his bio from various websites, LL can tell you that Murphy is most definitely not from the old guard. He’s from the Boston area, went to Harvard, where he graduated with honors, and then on to Georgetown Law School, where he was an editor of the school’s law journal, then to the hoity-toity law firm Hogan & Hartson.
Murphy left the firm in 1999 to found and run the District’s City Year program, the local AmeriCorps chapter that puts young volunteers to work doing community service.
“He was very effective at all parts of the job—navigating city politics, managing the corps, dealing with his board,” says Katherine Bradley. Bradley was a board member at City Year and says she considers Murphy a personal friend. She adds that she wasn’t part of the chief of staff search process but did act as a reference for Murphy once the Gray administration started considering him.
After leaving City Year, Murphy went to work for Bradley’s husband, David Bradley, at Atlantic Media. Murphy worked as the company’s lawyer and HR director. He’s also an alumnus of Leadership Greater Washington, a networking group whose members include Williams and former control board Chairwoman Alice Rivlin.
Political consultant Chuck Thies, who sometimes gives advice to the mayor, says naming Murphy as chief of staff is a “stroke of genius” on the mayor’s part that shows Gray’s turning away from the old guard.
“[Murphy’s] outside status should send a message to everyone in town,” says Thies. “It’s a classic reset moment.”
Possibly joining Murphy as a deputy chief of staff is Andrea Pringle, a political and communications strategist who’s worked on both national and political campaigns. Pringle confirms that she’s been approached by the Gray administration for the job. During last year’s mayoral campaign, she helped put together an award-winning mailer with the not-so-subtle message that Fenty didn’t care for black residents.
The mailing featured a photo of a black woman with the headline: “TUESDAY IS ELECTION DAY. YOU’RE NOT INVITED.” It was distributed in Ward 8 and paid for by developer Don Peebles. “Adrian Fenty is counting on you to stay home,” it continued. “That’s because if you stay home, he wins.”
Pringle, a Howard alum, has worked on past campaigns for Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange. At the national level, she’s worked for presidential hopefuls Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, and Jesse Jackson.
Kemry Hughes, a Ward 7 political wag who’s worked on local campaigns against Pringle’s candidates, says Pringle has a sharp political mind that would benefit the mayor.
“She’s bringing some political savviness that he needs right now,” says Hughes. “She represents the ability to connect with the folks.”
Part of Pringle’s rumored job duties would include overseeing the mayor’s communications team, which hasn’t exactly been tearing it up when it comes to protecting and nurturing Gray’s image.
For the record, Gray declines to say anything about possible new additions to his staff, saying only that he’ll announce new staffing decisions once they’re made. When LL asks if he’s looking to reboot his administration, Gray says heck no.
“Reboot what? We’re doing well now, man.”
LL doesn’t know about “well,” but give credit to the Gray administration for doing better now than when it first started. The summer job program went off without a major hitch, and the schools opened without the embarrassing first-of-the-year troubles that used to plague the system. All low bars, to be sure. But it’s a start.
Gray also finally seems to be feeling his oats when it comes to the D.C. Council. He recently vetoed a council plan to delay a municipal bond tax and called out Cheh for pretending to support an increase on rich people’s income taxes. And it looks like he’s going to win a staring contest against Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown over taxes. (Gray wants to raise ’em; Brown doesn’t.) All in all, by the time the council comes back from recess next month, Gray could be in the best political shape he’s been in all year, save for those brief few weeks right after his inauguration.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery
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