D.C.’s pulse: Residents divided in reaction to mayoral scandal

On some of the streets east of the Anacostia River, it was the people who once embraced Mayor Vincent C. Gray who voiced the most disgust with the scandal engulfing his administration.

In Ward 8, where Gray piled up 82 percent of the vote two years ago against his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty, residents offered up the same message: Time to go, Mayor Gray.

“He shouldn’t been in there in the first place,” said Terry Crutchfield, 52, on Thursday at a laundromat on Good Hope Road. Her vote for Gray in 2010, she said, was “the sorriest thing I ever did.”

“I’m voting for whoever is running against him,” said John Davis, 54, standing nearby.

Their voices represented just a smattering of sentiment across the city. But as the federal probe deepens into the finances of Gray’s election campaign, there were glimpses of a surprising conversation unfolding among District residents Thursday, one that didn’t break down along the usual racial lines that so often divide the city.

In areas where Gray commanded intense support and beat Fenty by wide margins, people talked about how much they wanted the mayor to resign. In the neighborhoods where Fenty outpolled Gray, the sense of betrayal seemed far less acute. For the most part, people spoke about Gray in more measured tones and expressed a willingness to wait for the investigation’s completion before calling for the embattled mayor to bow out, as three D.C. council members had already done.

“I’ve never been a Gray fan. But I’m not sure he should resign yet,” said Mike Weaver, 50, an information technology consultant who lives on Capitol Hill in Ward 6, where Fenty won 55 percent of the vote. “You don’t think of clean government when you think of him. Gray owes it to the city to explain himself.”

Weaver was eating lunch with friends at an Ethio­pian restaurant near the Howard Theatre. His friends nodded, agreeing that Gray deserves due process.

“I’m not sure if his leadership skills have been compromised,” said Andy Fiedler, a technology programming consultant who voted for Fenty.

Fiedler lives in Columbia Heights in Ward 1, where Fenty won 60 percent of the vote. “Was Fenty less corrupt?” he asked.

“Name a major scandal Fenty was involved in,” Weaver retorted, scooping some lentils into his mouth. “I can’t think of one. But D.C. has been much better off. It’s the fourth-hottest city for tech start-ups in the U.S.”

“But is that because of the mayor?” Fiedler asked. “Or despite the mayor?”

For people east of the Anacostia River, the mayor’s fate felt far more personal. He is one of them, after all, a native Washingtonian who’d grown up poor, broken racial barriers as a young man and entered city politics as an advocate for the disabled and the dispossessed. His courtly manner was a welcome alternative to the brash Fenty.

Outside the Anacostia Library, John Bee, 55, and William Smith, 48, talk about the mayor’s problems almost daily. Next to Bee sat a newspaper with the headline “Will Gray Go?” over a photo of the politician scratching his forehead.

Smith, wearing a Nationals ballcap that looked oversize on his rail-thin frame, glanced at the picture and chuckled. “He look confused,” he said. “He don’t know what to do.”

“What you think about Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas Jr.?” Bee said to Smith, referring to the D.C. Council chairman who was forced to resign in June after being charged with bank fraud, and another former council member sentenced in May to three years in prison for stealing money intended for youth programs.

“That’s messed up!”

“You not with the people, all I can say,” Bee said.

“Back in the day, [former mayor and current D.C. Council member] Marion Barry — his personal life got him in trouble. I never hear about him stealin’ money,” Smith said.

The mayor “need to step down,” Bee said.

At Shaw’s Tavern in Ward 6, three friends from a nonprofit group agreed that the scandal has tainted Gray. But they spoke cautiously about the prospect of his resignation. Federal investigators, they said, need to finish their work before they would feel comfortable demanding that Gray step aside.

“Only if it affects his ability to the run the city, then he should resign,” said Ian Carter, 33, a nonprofit business development officer who lives in Georgetown, in Ward 2.

“Due process, he deserves that,” said Shomwa Shamapande, a nonprofit communications director.

Shamapande said he has firsthand experience with the perils of a rush to judgment, In 2006, he was acquitted of allegations that he defrauded taxpayers in Long Island in a political scandal.

“I’ve been accused of something I didn’t do,” he said. “I went to court and defended myself and won an acquittal. You can be accused and looked guilty in the process. You can really look guilty in the media.”

Someone in the lunch crew brought up Gray’s silence on the investigation, so Shamapande chimed in.

“I looked guilty . . . and I had to shut up because you don’t want to tip off your best defense,” he said.

If Gray resigns and is succeeded by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D),the group wondered whether the city’s black residents would be upset by having a white mayor.

“Just because someone looks like you doesn’t mean they have your best interests at heart,” said Carter, who is black. “The symbolism of it can mean something, but from a leadership standpoint, I could care less. Yes, it impacts the African American community to have someone champion their interests in the mayor’s office, but that person doesn’t have to be African American.”

Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.

Annys Shin has been a staff writer at the Washington Post since 2004.
Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered schools, youth culture, criminal justice, and technology.
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