Mayor Vincent C. Gray welcomed about 1,800 District residents to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday for a citizens’ summit, an event praised for engaging the public but criticized for its $600,000 price tag and seeming bureaucracy.
Grouped at numbered tables as if at a banquet, participants prioritized the city’s issues, ranking the lack of affordable housing and corruption first and second, respectively. They also discussed ways to improve public education, create jobs and dispose of vacant city property.
Using wireless devices smaller than calculators, participants voted on the priorities and ideas with results appearing immediately on large screens.
“This is real-time, grassroots democracy, D.C. style,” Gray (D) told the crowd.
But some participants questioned whether their ideas would be implemented while others wondered whether the “One City Summit,” was actually stuck in the past even as it used high-tech devices and was streamed live online.
When the One City Summit began, electronic devices and tweeting were prohibited, according to Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, founder and president of America Speaks, the nonprofit that facilitated the event. The announcement drew outrage among tweeters — inside and outside the event — and resulted in a reversal by the Gray administration and America Speaks.
The Gray administration acknowledged the summit was a throwback to the administration of former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a two-term mayor who often had to fight the perception that he was aloof. Williams held four similar events during his tenure, which were facilitated by America Speaks.
In 1999, Williams wore a plaid shirt and khakis, an everyman outfit. Gray appeared Saturday in a sports jacket and tieless.
Read more: D.C. politics coverage