Gray makes priority obvious in State of D.C. address

As D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray gets ready to defend his job in the April 1 Democratic primary, PostTV looks at the highlights and low moments of his administration. (Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)

 

When D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray  took the stage at Kelly Miller Middle School on Tuesday night to offer his annual assessment of the city, one thing became immediately clear:  The state of the District is selfish.

After quite a bit of pomp, including an invocation, the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, the crowd was asked to sit down. Less than 15 seconds later, the Mayor was introduced, forcing the crowd to stand up once again. While the applause carried on,  Gray took a bit of a victory lap on stage before beginning his speech. Shaking hands and saluting the audience, he soaked in the “four more years!” chants.

Then he got down to addressing the most important matter of the night in his eyes: himself. By starting his State of the District speech talking about the scandal surrounding how he made it into office, he was hoping to get it out of the way and settle the matter somewhat early. He was confident and borderline defiant of U.S. Attorney Ron Machen, Jr., who has all but said that Gray is the man he’s targeting in his investigation probe.

“To some in our city, I’m just another corrupt politician from the other side of town. I ask them to look beyond their preconceived notions and instead to look at my record,” Gray said. “I say this to all of you now, clearly and unequivocally: I didn’t break the law.”

Yet, even if true, it’s fair to surmise that he benefited from a broken one. And to separate the benefit from the benefactor is an insult to the intelligence of District residents. Is Jeffrey Thompson a “greedy” man, as the Mayor put it? Sure. Is he an admitted criminal? Absolutely. He’s also the man that Gray willingly called “Uncle Earl,” even though he’s more than a decade Thompson’s senior. Washingtonians are smart enough to know that money is thicker than blood or water in this town, even if they don’t care.

“You address the elephant in the room at the beginning of a speech, because otherwise people are wondering, are you going to talk about this? There was big news yesterday, there were allegations made about the mayor.” Chuck Thies, Gray’s ever-chesty campaign manager said following the event. “There were questions about his integrity, questions about whether he’s honest or not. And that’s the kind of thing you’re going to address at the beginning of a speech. … It’s a clear choice for voters. Who do you believe, Vince Gray, or Jeffrey Thompson?”

This myopic construct— even if just an attempt to spin — is an example of how Gray’s campaign views voters. His camp must presume that this is his race to lose. But a recent NBC4 poll shows that 53 percent of Democrats are less likely to vote for Gray because of the investigation. A Washington Post poll shows that 54 percent of all D.C. adults don’t think Gray is trustworthy. So the damage is done regarding the matter of ethics. The result of the investigation is not really the point. The lingering problems affecting this city should stand higher than a courtroom ego battle.

To be fair, this is by no means only the Mayor’s problem. The Post’s Mike DeBonis and Paul Schwartzman report that Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange has been directly implicated in this shadow campaign nonsense and almost every mayoral candidate currently on the Council (save Tommy Wells) has taken money, albeit presumably legally, from Thompson at some point  (Orange has denied that he was aware that Thompson illegally contributed funds to his 2011 campaign for council).  Win at all costs appears to be the true widespread campaign motto. And Gray painting himself as an unfairly beleaguered bystander in this process is laughable.

Meanwhile, the city’s income inequality gap is one the largest in the country. The number of homeless families is growing at an alarming rate, and they’re shuffling between a hospital, hotels and recreation centers. Has there been progress during the past four years? For some, yes. And it isn’t as if Gray hasn’t at least tried while in office. But what you do when flush with resources is different than what you do when pressed. To me, these issues should have been the first thing out of Gray’s mouth when he addressed the city.

Tuesday, after all the other Council members, ANC commissioners and old Democratic heavies piled out of the hot auditorium and caught up with each other outside the school, the Mayor made his way to a side exit. I asked him why he lead with talk of his own circumstance on a night about the city.

“I thought it was the appropriate thing to do,” Gray said. “I’ve said from the very beginning, beginning being yesterday, that you know, we would address this directly. This was a great opportunity before a lot of people, so that’s why I wanted to do this. Then, we went into the speech that we would have given last Monday, but for the snow. The essence of it didn’t change at all. We put that up front because I though it should be put up front.”

Or in other words, the mayor comes first.

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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