Council chairman struggles to decide on challenge for mayor

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has not decided whether to challenge Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's reelection bid, but many think he's the only potential challenger who might be able to win.
By Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 11, 2010

With the dash to the September Democratic primary for D.C. mayor about to begin, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray might be the only politician standing between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and a second term.

R. Donahue Peebles, a real estate tycoon who had been preparing a mayoral bid, said Tuesday that he is not likely to challenge Fenty.

With Peebles on the sidelines, a growing contingent of Fenty detractors is pressuring Gray, a former Ward 7 representative on the D.C. Council in his first term as chairman, to give up his council reelection bid and instead run for mayor.

In a 90-minute interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Gray, 67, outlined why he would be successful in a campaign against Fenty, who won every precinct in the city during his 2006 campaign.

"People want a change," Gray said. "People are not satisfied."

Gray, who many observers think is the only potential candidate who could raise the resources needed to be competitive against Fenty, said he is struggling with his decision. If he lost in a mayoral contest, he would be out of a job, and his political career would probably be over, which is one reason he said he is taking time to decide whether to challenge Fenty.

In the interview, however, Gray was optimistic about his chances and drew sharp distinctions between himself and Fenty. "I think it is very clear we have different personalities," he said. "I think we are very different people."

The contrast in the styles of the two most powerful men in city government would dominate a head-to-head matchup: a fast-acting Fenty who often bypasses council authority vs. the deliberate-moving Gray, known for forging consensus.

Over the past year, many residents have been disenchanted with some of Fenty's decisions, such as his not attending funerals and memorial services for victims of the June 22 Metro crash; his refusal to give D.C. Council members tickets to the Washington Nationals; and his use of city facilities and police officers for his exercise regimen.

'Begging for Gray'

Fenty is frequently criticized by council members and others for nominating friends to boards and commissions. The city's decision to award construction contracts to some of them without council approval has triggered an investigation.

Gray, too, is being probed for his use of official letterhead to solicit donations for the local Democratic Party and whether he used his influence to get a company owned by mega-developer Chris Smith to complete repairs at his Southeast Washington home. Gray has acknowledged poor judgment but said he did nothing wrong. He said he paid market value for the work.

Gray's supporters appear unfazed by the controversies, saying there is a growing clamor for him to get in the race. "People are begging for Gray," said Robert V. Brannum of Northeast Washington, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. "The mayor has shown himself to be coldhearted, arrogant and distant and petty and childish."

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