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Ward 7 Councilmember and D.C. Council chair candidate Vincent Gray often hounds Loose Lips about doing a column on the chairman’s race—with a particular focus on Vincent Gray. The exchange usually involves a lot of good-natured ribbing, but given the financial struggles of the publishing industry, maybe LL would have been wise to submit to Gray’s request.
On Tuesday, Gray pushed through a bill directing $25,000 in city funds to Capitol Community News Inc. (CCN), a chain of community newspapers that has done extensive coverage of his bid to be the next D.C. Council chairman. The idea is for the company to produce a business guide to businesses east of the Anacostia river, similar to what CCN Publisher Jean-Keith Fagon has already produced for the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Gray and Fagon are well-acquainted. The March cover of CCN’s East of the River featured a big headshot. The paper’s profile of Gray offered up a glowing portrait of the council-chair wannabe and gave readers a two-thumbs-up review of his short tenure on the council.
The story describes Gray as a “big picture thinker” and quotes an unnamed Wilson Building staffer saying, “There is the impression that Gray has one of the highest approval ratings in the city—and this coming from a ward with lots of problems. That makes people take notice.”
Gray doesn’t seem to be the type to offer a payback for kind coverage. As the council deliberated his bill, he argued that east-of-the-river businesses would have a hard time paying for ads to support a classy business guide. But other community papers, including east-of-the-river mainstay the Washington Informer are livid about the grant. In a June 21 e-mail to Gray, Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes objected to Gray throwing a subsidy at CCN.
“I know of several local community newspapers that would be alive today if the D.C. City Council and the District Government had seen fit to make opportunities like this available to them,” she wrote. “There is a question of ethics that comes into play when the media, and newspapers particularly, are ‘given’ money by the government.”
Gray’s bill passed 9-3 with Council Chairman Linda Cropp abstaining. Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose—whose ward is home to CCN—voted against the measure. ‘I don’t know why we would do this when [the publisher] is a highly successful publishing entrepreneur,” Ambrose said.
Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who is running against Gray for the chairman’s spot, also raised objection to the amendment and voted no on the grant. Patterson says the East of the River cover had no bearing on the debate.
Gray’s Executive Assistant, Dawn Slonneger, says the idea came out of discussions her boss had with Fagon a CCN manager*. She also says Gray has now decided it would be best to open the grant up to all bidders. Gray plans to submit a letter to Cropp making it clear that the funds are not necessarily for CCN in particular.
CORRECTION: Slonneger reports she initially misspoke; Gray did not meet with Fagon but with another CCN employee.