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Cloud over head, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray reveals goals to help students, jobless, development

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray rolled out a set of policy goals on Wednesday that he said outline his vision for the District, the second effort in as many days to distance his administration from poor poll ratings amid a federal investigation into his 2010 campaign.

Gray’s “One City Action Plan,” which took more than a year to develop, prioritizes boosting student test scores, rebuilding playgrounds and libraries, slashing the unemployment rate, and promoting economic development across the city.

Many of the goals include policies Gray and his agency heads have already worked to implement, including more farmers markets, additional bikeshare stations and a new technology hub on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington.

Beyond that, the 56-page plan focuses on Gray’s efforts to attract new residents while easing disparities among the city’s wealthiest and poorest.

“The future,” Gray, waving a glossy magazine describing the goals, said at a news conference. “This is the future of the District of Columbia.”

But the mayor’s public efforts — including Tuesday’s release of grades residents gave to city agencies — to show he’s governing amid mounting criticism and the U.S. attorney’s office investigation have not masked the signs of increasing frustration within the administration that its work has been overshadowed, even ignored.

To make his point, Gray ran down a list of accomplishments he said he has not been given credit for, including a 2 percentage point drop in the city’s jobless rate, a $50 million savings in special-education costs and 17 development projects that amount to $18 billion in private investment.

“That is not talk — that is results,” Gray said during an at-times combative exchange with reporters. “Yes, my term. Me, Mayor Vincent Gray.”

Gray’s tone underscores his administration’s efforts to regain its focus after two campaign aides pleaded guilty to felonies related to illicit payoffs made to a minor party candidate during the election and an associate admitted that she helped orchestrate a “shadow campaign” to get the mayor elected.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen alleges that Gray benefited from the $653,800 illegal campaign, but Gray has not been charged with wrongdoing. Two weeks ago, three D.C. Council members called on the mayor to resign.

The controversy has impacted the mayor’s popularity just 19 months into his term. A recent Washington Post poll found Gray’s approval rating at 29 percent.

Gray has denied any wrongdoing and has declined to talk in detail about the investigation on the advice of his counsel. He has said the poll results convinced him that he needs to focus on “concrete action things” and better convey his team’s work.

On Tuesday, Gray released scores from the new Grade DC initiative, which found that residents’ views of agencies’ work have improved in the past month.

After his news conference Wednesday, the mayor appeared with Amtrak officials to unveil a $7 billion plan to redevelop Union Station. On Thursday, Gray is expected to announce that students’ test scores have improved, and on Friday he is scheduled to attend a seminar for developers and contractors about upcoming redevelopment projects .

“These things used to move serially. We are moving them in parallel,” Gray said.

The One City plan was conceived as the cornerstone of Gray’s administration, a vehicle for implementing most major policy decisions.

Gray coined the “One City” phrase during his 2006 council chairman’s race and used it again in 2010 in his win over then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who critics said lacked a broad and inclusive vision for the city.

After he was sworn in, Gray merged the phrase with his process-orientated reputation to rally support for his initiatives. In February, the city spent more than $500,000 on a “one-city summit,” during which residents brainstormed about the city’s future.

The plan sets a goal of reducing the city’s number of homicides to a maximum of 99, from 108 last year. Gray also wants 900 new affordable housing units by 2014; five additional miles of bike lanes this year; an 8 percent unemployment rate by 2015, from 9.1 percent currently; completion of the renovation of all libraries over the next three years; and improvements at 66 playgrounds.

The plan’s education component sets ambitious goals for D.C. students, including 70 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2017, up from 43 percent. The plan also calls for a 70 percent four-year graduation rate for ninth-graders within four years. The current rate is 53 percent.

“We have a chance to remake our city for the next generation,” said Gray, who added that residents will be able to track the progress online.

When asked whether the long-term plan signaled that he would seek a second term in 2014, Gray would say only that he hopes whoever is mayor would complete the goals.

© The Washington Post Company