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Since Vincent C. Gray declared his intention to run for mayor late last month, LL and others have been wondering: What’s this campaign going to be about? Gray made it clear at his official kickoff rally this afternoon: Incumbent Adrian Fenty.
In a 25-minute speech delivered inside the Carnegie Library building in Mount Vernon Square, Gray took repeated swipes to Fenty in a speech rife with references to “sweetheart deals” and “cronyism.” The crowd of hundreds, which included councilmembers Yvette Alexander, Michael Brown, Phil Mendelson, ate it up.
“There are some who say, ‘Who cares if the mayor ruffles some feathers? He’s getting results.’ To them, I have a simple message: That ain’t good enough,” Gray said in a challenge to Fenty’s governing style. “You know what happens when you’re always knocking heads? People walk away with a really big headache. And I don’t know about you, but I never work effectively when I have a headache.”
Gray also made it clear that he’s willing to go toe-to-toe with Fenty on his signature issue: education. In the speech and in remarks to reporters afterward, the candidate made it clear that wants to be judged on an issue where Fenty can and will claim serious progress as mayor.
“I remain committed to school reform,” Gray said, but added that “we need a mayor who understands that the best way to achieve real and lasting change is to involve the community, not just impose his will.”
On education, as well as the other issues he addressed, Gray promised to adopt holistic strategies to addressing key problems without offering much in the way of detail. “We can’t just look at government as a bunch of separate initiatives,” he said. “We need to connect the dots and look at a comprehensive and robust approach to solving our problems.” Detailed policy proposals, he promised, would be issued in the coming weeks.
He did offer some specifics: On education, Gray promised to work to improve the District’s special-education programs, in order to reduce the number of D.C. kids sent to private programs—-a huge budget drain for both tuition and transportation. He took a page from the Kwame Brown playbook, emphasizing a return to vocational and technical education. He said he’d reduce emphasis on standardized testing. And he pledged to “stop neglecting the University of the District of Columbia” and to make it a “first-class state university.”
Gray was less specific on his jobs strategy, if more biting in his critique of Fenty. “We’ll restore fairness, integrity, cost-efficiency, and transparency to the economic development process by putting an end to ‘pay to play,'” Gray pledged, adding that “a mayor should create jobs for everyone in D.C., not just friends and cronies.”
Same deal on public safety: Gray called nebulously for “effective partnership between law enforcement, the communities they serve, and the mayor’s office.” And then came the nod to the incumbent: “When violence erupts on our streets, people shouldn’t have to ask where their leaders are”—-a clear reference to the fact that Fenty was on vacation when four were killed in last month’s drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street.
The hits kept on coming: “It seems like every day there’s another story about mismanaged public dollars and shady deals,” Gray said. “We read about a school system that can’t even figure out if it needs to fire teachers because it has a deficit, or give them raises because it has a surplus. We were promised transparency and openness, but read about sweetheart deals and cronyism….People want a mayor who works with the [D.C. Council] and with residents to get results. Sadly what they see is childish bickering over silly things like baseball tickets, and contempt for the will of the people.”
And the coup de grace: “As your mayor, my sincerity doesn’t end when I knock on your door, asking for your vote.”
In a rare personal note early in the speech, Gray described a hardscrabble upbringing in a one-bedroom apartment near Gallaudet University, having to share a rollaway bed with his brother. He described his time at Dunbar High School and his integration of the George Washington University fraternity system, before describing his advocacy on behalf of the developmentally disabled.
Even those warmhearted stories morphed into Fenty slams: As a member of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Dunbar, he said, “I learned you can work hard and achieve a leadership position, but you have to work hard and be a leader in order to keep it. That’s a lesson some of our public leaders could stand to learn.”
Even more subtly: “I was an athlete, where I learned the importance of working together as a team,” he said—-no doubt aware that Fenty, too, is an athlete, albeit in individual-oriented sporting endeavors.
Gray read his remarks for a teleprompter, often inserting “my friends” in the text, John McCain-style. Repeatedly he was interrupted by the hundreds-strong crowd with chants of “Go Vince Gray” and once instance of “Send Fenty home.”
He closed his speech with an invocation of his long-running “One City” campaign theme. The PA then blasted the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started.”
After the speech, in brief comments to reporters, Gray addressed the tone of his speech: “I think a lot of people who voted for this mayor feel like they voted for somebody who turned out to be different than the person they voted for,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger out there—anger I haven’t seen in the past in the District of Columbia, and I’ve been here my entire life.”