Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) may be on political death watch in official Washington but residents of the neighborhoods of upper Northwest and the so-called black Gold Coast are taking a wait-and-see stance about his political survival. This is even as they try to square their own support or opposition of him against the growing racial divide between those who back the embattled mayor and those who want him gone.
“I’m disappointed that this would happen to his administration, I voted for him,” says Karen James-Preston, a veterinarian, who lives in the 16th Streets Heights neighborhood. “All the dynamics that have occurred have a
cumulative effect on him and his administration. I don’t think it’s fair but that’s the political situation he’s in.”
Given the city’s changing demographics, James-Preston says she’s not surprised race has factored into the debate over Gray’s political fate. She’s withholding judgment on whether he should resign until the investigation of him is completed and the allegations are proven true. ”There are the so-called facts and then there are the real facts,” she says. “All I know is what I’ve heard and read on the news.”
Indeed, a Washington Post poll released Thursday found that African-Americans in the District are much more measured than whites in their opinions about Gray and whether he should step down. The poll found that 48 percent of blacks city wide think he should step down. Meanwhile 44 percent believe he should stay. This compared to 62 percent of whites who think he should resign immediately.
But the storm clouds of skepticism may be a little more important in this neighborhood, particularly because these middle class and wealthy black areas - once represented by former Mayor Adrian Fenty- supported Gray heavily in 2010 and were a major factor in Fenty’s inability to win reelection. These neighborhoods, along with communities east of the Anacostia River, are the heart of Gray’s political base.
Juanita Edwards, a university administrator, who also lives in 16th Streets Heights, says the growing scandal over the funding of Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, confirmed her initial doubts about him.
“This is a case in point of the concerns and reservations I, and many other people, had about Gray and about going back to the old-school, dirty politics of the past,” she says. “He’s not even half-way through his term and people are already calling for him to resign and talking about a recall.”
Edwards, who closely follows local politics, says she took her reservations about Gray into the polling booth when she voted for him, deciding at the very last minute to give him the benefit of the doubt as a rebuke to Fenty.
“I had not made up my mind,” she says. “I was going back and forth and then I decided to go with Gray to sort of give Fenty a knock on the head. It was more of a vote against Fenty than a vote for Gray. The arrogance of Fenty was overwhelming so I thought I’d vote for the lesser of two evils.”
Now she’s not so sure.
“It was a little discomfiting,” she says of supporting a candidate she was not fully invested in. It’s equally unsettling now to see her fears about him playing out daily in the news. Still, she’s not sure if he should resign while the investigation is still ongoing.
Other residents share Edwards’ ambivalence but also worry the investigation of Gray is increasingly focused on forcing him from power.
“I’m really conflicted about this,” says Michael K. Fauntroy, who lives in Shepard Park and is a lifelong District resident. “Much of the stuff coming at Gray has nothing to do with the job he’s done.”
He noted the “rave reviews” Gray received for being an effective leader and bringing disparate groups in the District together when he was council chairman. “Now he’s supposedly corrupt.”
“Many of the same people accusing him of corruption have never been in a campaign,” Fauntroy says. “It makes perfect sense to me that a candidate who’s busy running for office would not be involved in the details of who gave money to the campaign.”
Fauntroy says there’s a big difference between political corruption and administrative incompetence.
“The city doesn’t benefit if someone is run out of office unfairly,” he says.
Fauntroy knows something about politics, especially racial politics in D.C. He is an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University and the nephew of the legendary former D.C Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Walter E. Fauntroy. He says questions about Gray’s “shadow campaign” and the recent resignations of District council members Harry Thomas Jr., and Kwame Brown, both black and both charged with federal crimes, has given rise to “a corrupt black people narrative” in the public discourse.
“I think there is brewing racial tension in the city and this is just an example of that. It has a lot to do with the way people are lining up for or against Gray and appears to be a by-product of this narrative and it worries me.”
Fauntroy says it’s too easy to lump Thomas, Brown, and Gray together, and to throw in Council member and former mayor Marion Barry’s past problems with the law for good measure. He says it’s a predictable and disappointing reaction.
“The inability of reasonable people to distinguish between different acts is troubling to me and I think it’s bad for the city,” he says.
Marjorie Valbrun is a contributor to The RootDC.