The roving teleprompter is part of nearly $1 million the Gray administration has spent to engage residents through summits, town halls and other gatherings since last year. A Washington Post analysis of city records found that Gray (D) has held 25 major, city-sponsored events, including his two State of the District addresses. For this year’s address, for instance, the administration spent $5,000 on a speechwriter for the prose Gray recited before 1,000 people at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
The Post analysis is based on several invoices provided by the administration, which said it did not have expense documents available for all of the events. It maintains that most of the programs — including nine town halls on the city budget and eight for young people — were of minimal cost to taxpayers. Oftentimes, agency employees paid for refreshments, said mayoral spokeswoman Doxie McCoy.
In some instances, the city received minimal support. Dish Network donated $500 toward a town hall on the African community, while the Children’s Youth Investment Trust Corp. provided $750 for a youth town hall.
But the bulk of expenditures went to no-bid contracts with America Speaks, a nonprofit group that specializes in large-scale meetings. Last month, the group conducted Gray’s One City Summit, which cost $607,600, according to the documents. The group handled a Ward 8 community summit in July that cost $247,857 and a cabinet retreat earlier in the year for $25,000. The administration is tapping the group this summer for a $200,000 Ward 7 summit.
Gray’s director of communications, Pedro Ribeiro, said that the city properly advertised the contracts and that America Speaks is one of a handful of nonprofit groups in the country that can manage such events.
Advisers say the expenses are part of Gray’s efforts to make good on his campaign promise, especially because residents harshly criticized his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), when his public appearances began to dwindle.
Gray doesn’t want to fall into that trap, said the advisers, who acknowledged that the mayor is trying to connect with a public that in part associates his administration with campaign controversies that are under federal investigation.
“Fenty, he was criticized for . . . not attending neighborhood meetings,” Ribeiro said. “They knocked him for that. Now, they’re knocking the mayor for too much.”
Gray agreed, saying there is no price too high to engage residents.
“I love to connect with people, hear from people, hear what their frustrations are,” Gray said. “I don’t think there is any substitute to meeting with people.”
The One City Summit, which was held on a Saturday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, drew 1,700 attendees, 300 volunteers and 500 online participants, Gray said. “It confirms to me that it was money well-spent,” he said.