Former D.C. Parks Chief Clark Ray to Run for Council

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Clark Ray, the former head of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, formally kicked off his campaign Saturday for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council.

Ray is the only known candidate challenging c ou ncil member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), first elected in 1998, in the Democratic primary next September.

If Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) fails to draw a challenger, the Mendelson-Ray battle will probably be the marquee race in the 2010 city elections. A former Clinton administration official, Ray served as the director of Parks and Recreation from late 2007 until April. He is credited with helping launch Fenty's aggressive program to add parks. But Fenty fired Ray in April because the mayor said he wanted to "shift gears" to add programming.

Ray made his announcement at a coffeehouse in Dupont Circle and pledged to support Fenty's school reform efforts and fight for increased access to higher education. He also vowed to bolster community policing and work to bridge the divide between the city's poorest and wealthiest residents.

"We must not rest until the unemployment rate in wards 7 and 8 are as low as it is in Ward 3," Ray said, comparing the city's eastern neighborhoods and upper Northwest.

Ray did not mention Mendelson by name Saturday, but he and his supporters implied that they do not think Mendelson has been visible enough.

"This will be a campaign where you just don't do business from the dais of the Wilson Building," said Peter Rosenstein, a community activist and Ray supporter.

Mendelson, chairman of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, said he welcomes the competition. Mendelson easily defeated lawyer A. Scott Bolden four years ago and bristled at the suggestion that he is not visible.

"Reelections are about records, and I am proud of my record," said Mendelson, noting that he authored a crime bill this year. "In 2006, I carried every ward of the city. You don't do that by being a stranger."

Ray's candidacy may test Mendelson's support within the city's gay community. Mendelson is a longtime supporter of gay rights, and he sponsored D.C. legislation that recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states. Ray is openly gay.

Several Dupont Circle community leaders endorsed Ray on Saturday, citing his efforts at the parks department to expedite long-stalled construction projects, including a renovated Stead Park on P Street and a new dog park at 17th and S streets NW.

Judy Leon, who lives in the 1500 block of 16th Street, attended Ray's announcement with her dog Beta.

"This is a dog whose life was changed by Mr. Ray," Leon said, explaining how the 4-year-old yellow Labrador was rescued from a puppy mill. "She's now able to come out of her shell [at the dog park] and play with other dogs."

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