Clergy have their say with Vince Gray on ‘living wage’ bill

August 15, 2013

Clergy members, led by Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, rallied in support of the living wage bill at a Southeast church last month. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

Here we are, more than a month after the D.C. Council took its final vote approving the Large Retailer Accountability Act — aka the “living wage” bill targeting the city’s largest current and potential retailers, most notably Wal-Mart. And, no, the bill has not yet made its way from the council to Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s desk.

However, progress of some sort was made this week, when Hizzoner on Tuesday met with a group of about two dozen clergy members supporting the bill, making good on a promise to meet with interested parties on all sides of the issue.

The Rev. Graylan S. Hagler — the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and the leader of the faith-based faction of LRAA supporters — said Thursday that the 90-minute meeting was generally positive.

But things got “testy,” Hagler said, when the ministers called out Gray for seemingly “campaigning” for a veto — discussing in his public appearances the many reasons he might kill the bill without acknowledging its upside.

Gray “vehemently” denied prejudging the bill, Hagler said, adding that his group “had to forget about diplomacy and politeness and let him know where we stand” on that particular point.

Hagler said he noted, among other things, that Gray’s top economic development adviser, Victor L. Hoskins, went out of his way to criticize the bill, saying it would kill retail development in the city. “They tried to claim that’s his personal position, his personal opinion,” he said of mayoral officials who attended the meeting, including Hoskins.

“I don’t buy that,” Hagler said. “How can that be your personal opinion when you’re the deputy mayor?”

Gray spokesman Rob Marus declined to characterize the meeting but said Thursday that “the mayor definitely has an open mind and is very eager to hear the concerns of the ministers and others.”

So when will we see action on the bill? Two Gray administration officials not authorized to speak publicly said they believe the bill has passed the review of council lawyers and now sits on the desk of Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), awaiting his signature and transmittal to the mayor.

Mendelson, who did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, has previously acknowledged that a factor in the transmittal delay is the fact that the council is now on recess, and it could be inconvenient for members to have to interrupt travel plans to stage a veto-override vote. Mendelson said Wednesday he expects the bill to be sent as soon as this week or as late as the week after next.

If the bill reached the mayor starting Monday, it would be guaranteed that the council could hold its override vote at the next scheduled council meeting on Sept. 17. The Gray officials said the mayor personally pledged to Mendelson earlier this week that he would make his sign-or-veto decision on a date that would not force a special meeting.

Hagler said Gray “expressed frustration” at the Tuesday meeting that he had not yet received the bill.

Now, you may be asking, why is a man who is supposedly still hashing out his feelings on the bill so darn eager to get it in his hands, putting him on a 10-day clock to make a decision? Well, perhaps he’s like me, and is simply incapable of making a decision before he is forced to, or he had a pretty good idea of what he’s going to do and wants to get this all over with.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · August 15, 2013