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Posted at 05:45 PM ET, 10/06/2010

Gray's use of schools for forums raises concern

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has scheduled three neighborhood town hall forums at public schools, even though officials have been stressing all year that political events should not take place on school grounds.

Gray's Ward 2 forum next Thursday is being held at School Without Walls, a high school. Later in the month, Gray will hold his Ward 6 forum at Eastern High School and his Ward 7 event at Sousa Middle School.

Despite beating Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, Gray still has to clear the November general election before he can begin his official transition.

In organizing the forums, Gray campaign advisers have stressed the events are designed to try to woo voters in advance of the November election. At Gray's Ward 5 forum Tuesday night, many of attendees wore "Gray' stickers.

District schools fall under a section of the code stating "no District resource... shall be used to support or oppose any candidate for elected office, whether partisan or nonpartisan."

Earlier in the year, city officials warned principals on at least three occasions that school grounds should be kept free of politics. In one instance, school operations director Evan Smith wrote the "prohibition covers every kind of partisan political activity."

Traci Hughes, a Gray spokeswoman, said the campaign decided to hold the events at some schools because, they say, there is "some wiggle room in the statue."

"DCPS has a discretion to approve these events," Hughes said. Hughes added principals at all three schools signed off on the events, but she conceded top school officials had yet to weigh in on the matter.

"They haven't told us to stand down, but they are scheduled," Hughes said. "We will see what happens."

Neither the principals nor a spokesman for DCPS immediately returned calls for comment.

But Attorney General Peter Nickles said "its common sense" that Gray should not be using schools for political events.

"I don't see how you get around the langauge of the law," Nickles said. "Clearly, if he is having these townhalls at DC schools, which are owned by the District government, then my legal view would be that is covered by this" law.

Terry Lynch, a community activist who supported Fenty during the primary, said he was also troubled by Gray's decision to hold his events at public schools.

"I was surprised to see they were using government buildings for these campaign events," Lynch said. "It would be one thing if the election was over and he was mayor. Does this mean DCPS endorses this campaign? Or are taxpayers helping somehow to fund these events?

--Tim Craig

By  |  05:45 PM ET, 10/06/2010

Categories:  2010 District Election, 2010 District Election, 2010 District Election

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