Opinions

Gray and his shadow

As a D.C. resident and one-time adviser to candidates for office, I have a tip for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. The sooner he learns it, the sooner our city can recover.

My tip? Remember you are the mayor. The man in charge. The guy who can do whatever he wants. Forget the lawyers and the loyalty. Take some responsibility, and we can move forward as a city, possibly even with you at the helm.

As scandals pile up around Gray, he has become his own worst enemy. Instead of owning up and moving on, he keeps portraying himself as a victim of forces beyond his control.

Gray says he tried to run an honorable race, but the effort was “not the campaign [he] intended to run.”

He tells us that clamming up “is not really consistent with who I am.” It is the “lawyers” we should blame for his not telling us more.

As the man in charge, Gray’s problems are the result of his choices, but you would not know that from listening to him. In an ironic twist, the District seems to have replaced Adrian Fenty, a mayor accused of being tyrannical, with a mayor who claims to have no control at all.

Judging from his comments, Gray appears to have only one page in his PR playbook: Shift the blame. This tactic might work for others, but Gray is the mayor, and the buck stops with him.

The mayor’s reaction to calls for his resignation illustrate his problem. Instead of acknowledging people’s frustrations, he insists he is innocent until proven guilty. What he forgets — or refuses to acknowledge — is that we hold our elected officials to a standard above that of courts. When you are in charge, you get the credit and the blame.

For many, the mayor has failed the test of leadership.

Voters, quite reasonably, hold candidates accountable for their campaigns. When thousands of yard signs, T-shirts and other goods bought by secret money are disbursed from your campaign office, it is not enough to say this was a “shadow” campaign. Clearly, it was your campaign, whether you knew it or not.

When the mayor says, “We ran a campaign that was based on the laws and the principles of the District of Columbia,” he is just not credible. Media reports suggest that an illegal effort was run out of his headquarters. He does not need to admit guilt if he is innocent, but how about an admission that an organization under his watch went horribly wrong?

Let’s be clear. The mayor and his allies did not steal the election. If there is a silver lining to this scandal, it is that the 2010 campaign was never close. Gray was going to beat Fenty, my choice, regardless of whether his friends helped him.

The question now is not whether Gray’s claim to office is legitimate. It is whether he is legitimately fit to stay. His inability to overrule his lawyers and take responsibility raises serious doubts.

I suspect some of the mayor’s reluctance to speak stems from a desire to protect those campaign workers who fought on the right side of the law. He is also likely concerned about disappointing voters who supported his “One City” campaign theme.

Disappointment in politics is an area where I have some experience. I spent years of my life fighting to get John Edwards elected president. I know what it is like to see your causes corrupted, but I also know that it is not too late for Gray to speak up and keep faith.

In many ways, the “shadow campaign” is a metaphor for the mayor’s troubles. It is almost as if he wants us to believe there are two Vince Grays: Mayor Gray, who gets up in the morning to do the right thing, and Shadow Vince, who falls victim to other people’s mistakes.

I am one D.C. resident who is sick of hearing excuses from Shadow Vince, but I am still open to hearing responsibility from Mayor Gray. The mayor is right that the city continues to move in the right direction, but his inability to be the strong leader this city needs is undercutting the good by the day.

So here is my tip, Mr. Mayor. You are in charge. No one else. Overrule the lawyers. It is time to hear what you have to say.

 
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