In a 22-page speech, Gray opened his address by boasting about the District’s growth to 600,000 residents and rankings as “happiest city,” “fastest-growing retail market” and “most socially networked city in America.”
“The truth is that the growth in our city has been a miracle for some and a mirage for others,” Gray said. “For those left behind, the picture I have just painted of the city’s successes is not a self-portrait, but something closer to a foreign landscape. You can gaze at it admiringly, but it doesn’t look anything like your neck of the woods.”
Gray, a 68-year-old native Washingtonian who grew up in a one-bedroom Northeast apartment to parents with little education, juxtaposed the District’s “accolades” with other statistics: More than half of high school students do not graduate, and one in three adults is unemployed in some neighborhoods. About 22 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line.
Gray delivered his speech at Eastern High School to a standing-room-only audience that applauded and even laughed at times during a speech that made little news and was more than an hour long.
Gray said he has acknowledged “missteps” previously and said he wanted to focus his speech on improving education, generating jobs and reducing crime. “I didn’t want tomorrow’s headline to be this,” he said, referring to the controversies swirling around his administration.
Gray, a former D.C. Council chairman and Ward 7 council member, said he would work to make the Anacostia River, often seen as a division between rich and poor and black and white, “a unifying force.”
“I will work to make one city out of the two very different realities that coexist today,” Gray said.
But the controversies of his nascent administration have affected Gray’s popularity and his base. Gray defeated Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) last year with a slogan of “character, integrity and leadership” and a promise of “one city.”
The controversies surrounding his administration, along with recent troubles of some D.C. Council members, could affect the fiscal 2012 budget. Gray is scheduled to submit his first spending plan, which has to tackle a more than $320 million budget deficit, to the council Friday. Employees are taking furlough days on holidays to help close this fiscal year’s budget gap.
Gray said he was focused on putting residents back to work, but he noted that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program needs reform. On Friday, TANF recipients who have gotten benefits for more than 60 months will begin to be weaned off the program.