Jonetta Rose Barras
Jonetta Rose Barras
Opinion Writer

Jonetta Barras: Apologies and other empty words from Mayor Gray

Forget the past. “It is time to turn the page.” Judge me on my record. Those were the entreaties made in various venues by Mayor Vincent C. Gray as he kicked off his reelection bid.

Seriously? Gray’s record and his past are inextricably linked. Thus, there can be no eluding the corrupt 2010 mayoral campaign, which indisputably thwarted the democratic process.

Jonetta Rose Barras

Jonetta Rose Barras’s weekly column focuses on local life, government and politics, with an emphasis on the District. With more than 20 years’ experience reporting and commenting for the Washington Examiner, Washington Times, City Paper, WAMU and other outlets, she is a familiar voice in the D.C. region.

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Residents understand that. In fact, “nearly three in four Democratic voters” say the federal investigation of that campaign will affect whom they choose in the April 1 primary, according to a recent Post poll.

But even before 2010, Gray’s record was spotty. There were documented incidents where he didn’t keep promises and lost voters’ trust. Consider how he handled residents in Ward 7, where he lives.

Paul and Barbara Savage, stalwarts of the Hillcrest community, helped Gray win a seat in 2004 on the D.C. Council. He pledged to them and others that he would do what his predecessor didn’t: bring quality economic development to Ward 7. They stuck with him through the 2006 council chairman race and his 2010 mayoral bid.

Yet, said Paul Savage, “he has done very little to improve the quality of life for Ward 7 citizens.” He cited major commercial nodes — Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Penn Branch Shopping Center and East River Park Shopping Center — as proof that nothing has changed. Even when Skyland Shopping Center is completed, Savage said, “it will not come close to the aspirations and vision worthy of more than 25 years of commitment, diligence and hard work by many Hillcrest residents.”

“Barbara and I are greatly disappointed in Mayor Gray,” added Savage, echoing a refrain I heard from other erstwhile Gray supporters in Wards 5, 7 and 8, which compose his political base.

Residents of Lincoln Heights haven’t seen the redevelopment of their public housing complex that Gray promised in the mid-2006. But in 2010 his campaign allegedly attempted to exploit public housing residents — obtaining, according to The Post, a computerized list from the D.C. Public Housing Authority of residents’ private information in order to solicit their votes and get them to the polls.

Gray also promised families east of the Anacostia River that he would protect their traditional neighborhood schools. Soon after taking office, however, he commissioned a study that ultimately led to more school closings, which he apparently did nothing to prevent.

“People who supported him in [2010] are very disappointed,” said Daniel del Pielago, an organizer with Empower DC, a nonprofit group helping families in Wards 5, 7 and 8 fight for better educational programs, among other things. “They expected something different. He hasn’t done right by Ward 7.”

In fact, noted Savage, Hillcrest and other Ward 7 residents, who have been pushing for a middle school for which students must apply for admission, have not received any commitment from Gray.

The city’s East End is littered with Gray’s empty gestures and broken promises.

Last week, in an interview on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) and before a live audience in Ward 8, the mayor apologized for activities that occurred during his 2010 campaign. “The things that happened in that campaign . . . were painful. They were embarrassing to me,” he said on Channel 9. “There were things I wish hadn’t happened. I’m sorry those things happened.”

That said, Gray now wants residents to drop the matter. While he has not been charged with a crime and has said “I didn’t do anything,” why should residents be discouraged from seeking further details about the 2010 campaign, including why he did not realize a $650,000 illegal “shadow campaign” operated within a few feet of his official headquarters?

Should residents be expected to ignore a continuing federal investigation?

Are they to forget that four of Gray’s friends and political allies, including Vernon Hawkins, who has particularly long and deep ties to the mayor, have pleaded guilty to felonies? Should they pretend that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. didn’t say publicly “there’s there there,” suggesting more charges to come?

Gray and Chuck Thies, whose political commentary regularly appeared online for WRC-TV (Channel 4) before he became the mayor’s campaign manager, want to blame the media for what they consider a fixation on the past. “I know that some reporters prefer a circus to a thoughtful discussion of issues. I know that they care about ratings and selling newspapers,” Gray said last week. But the public has its own ideas: 54 percent of those surveyed by The Post believe Gray is untrustworthy.

He could have helped himself if he had provided critical details about 2010. He didn’t. Worse, he waited three years — more precisely, days before his reelection bid — to offer a mea culpa.

I was taught that an apology is offered at the moment there is a realization a wrong has been done and an injury has occurred.

If past is prologue, and usually it is, Gray’s plea for forgiveness — not unlike his unfulfilled pledges to residents — is yet another case of his willingness to say and do whatever is necessary to realize his goal: reelection.

 
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