As Obama takes a tentative step on D.C. budget autonomy, Gray pushes for more


Mayor Vincent C. Gray delivers the 2013 State of the District Address, reporting on the status of the city and his administration and outlining his agenda and priorities for the coming year, in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 5, 2013. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
February 9, 2013

The White House delighted Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other local officials and activists when it announced last month that the city’s “Taxation Without Representation” plates would be placed on the presidential motorcade. But Gray is afraid that President Obama’s embrace of the District voting-rights crusade may end there.

Gray said he thought it was unlikely Obama would indulge his follow-up request — to mention a local D.C. issue in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

“I had talked to the administration about putting something about budget autonomy in the State of the Union speech, and it has not been well-received, I can tell you that,” Gray said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors Thursday. “I don’t expect to see anything.”

Gray declined to identify which administration official he had spoken to about the speech.

The Obama administration has previously supported budget autonomy — a change to the District charter that would give the city greater freedom to spend locally raised tax dollars without congressional approval — inserting a statement into the last presidential budget request.

But Gray questioned the utility of Obama making his feelings known only in “a 1,000 page document which nobody reads.”

“That was one of the points I made to them,” he said. “If the president has already said this . . . why don’t you just stand up and say it, so the world can hear it? All we’re asking for is the opportunity to make decisions about our own money.”

Several presidents, dating to Harry S. Truman in 1946, have mentioned District of Columbia self-governance in their yearly addresses to Congress.

Gray said his administration has enjoyed close working relationships with Obama’s Cabinet agencies, particularly with regard to education and transportation. But he indicated he has grown frustrated with Obama’s refusal to be more vocal about D.C. democracy issues — particularly as he enters a second term.

Shortly before taking office in 2009, Obama told Post editors and reporters that D.C. voting rights “takes on a partisan flavor” and that his legislative agenda was “chock-full.”

“I understood in the early going why there was reticence on certain things,” Gray said, referring to Obama’s first-term struggles with the economy, health care and other national issues. “He ought not to have that reticence at this point.”

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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