Vincent Gray officially enters race for D.C. mayor

City Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray formally filed that he will challenge Mayor Adrian M. Fenty before dozens of supporters Tuesday afternoon at the Reeves Center on U Street NW.
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray officially launched his campaign for mayor Tuesday, casting himself as a true Washingtonian who is ready take on incumbent Adrian M. Fenty in an intense sprint to the September primary.

With 60 supporters gathered in the lobby of the Reeves Center, Gray (D) walked up to the fourth floor to declare his candidacy with the Board of Elections and Ethics. When he emerged, Gray delivered a one-minute statement in which he noted that he was born in the city and attended public schools and George Washington University.

"In essence, I am a dyed-in-the-wool homie," Gray said. "I absolutely love this city. I am delighted to be able to step up to provide additional leadership in the District of Columbia."

Gray's efforts to connect with native Washingtonians frame the contest between him and Fenty, who takes credit for improving test scores, reducing the homicide rate and building new ballfields and recreational facilities. Although Fenty, 39, was also born in Washington, Gray supporters accuse the mayor of neglecting longtime residents who had access to the city's levers of power, including unions and civil rights activists.

For a second consecutive day, Fenty held no public events. His spokesmen also declined to comment on Gray's formal announcement, referring reporters to a statement that Fenty's campaign issued Monday when word leaked that Gray, 67, would run. But Fenty advisers said they will turn the race into a referendum on whether Gray represents the past or the future.

During his announcement Tuesday, Gray did not spell out any policy positions or answer reporters' questions about why he decided to run. But he offered a preview of the message he plans to take before voters this summer. "The reality is, we can do better in the District of Columbia," Gray said. "We can do better."

With a new campaign office and a skeleton staff in place, Gray's campaign was starting to take shape Tuesday. Gray, who is banking on being able to capitalize on residents' frustration with Fenty's leadership style, has assembled a support base of labor and civic leaders who encouraged him to run.

"Anything he needs, we are going to get him," said Geo T. Johnson, executive director of AFSCME District Council 20, which represents about 8,000 city workers. "There will be a coalition of teachers, Teamsters, police and firefighters, and we are all ready to go. We have just been waiting."

With Fenty sitting on $3.6 million, and millionaire businessman R. Donahue Pebbles considering entering the race and self-financing his campaign, Gray's first challenge will be to raise enough money to be competitive.

Sources close to the campaign said Gray will try to enlist the help of well-known fundraisers such as Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Judith Terra to quickly collect large amounts of cash. The campaign also plans to enlist 10 fundraisers to collect $100,000 each and 50 supporters to gather $50,000 apiece, the sources say. In a brief interview Tuesday, Gray said he doesn't think he will need as much money as his opponents to prevail because he hopes to rely on volunteers and low-dollar contributors to fuel his campaign.

With only about 100,000 residents expected to vote in the Democratic primary Sept. 14, Gray and Fenty will spend the next five months reaching out to a relatively small number of voters. And Gray supporters said they have the advantage in turning out voters because, they said, many residents are angry at Fenty.

"We need to back someone who is going to bring back some expertise to City Hall," said Thomas M. Smith, chairman of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, who endorsed Gray on Tuesday. "All the cronyism needs to go."

Smith's support for Gray -- along with the expected endorsement of council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) -- gives him an opportunity to expand his backing in Upper Northwest Washington. A Washington Post poll conducted in January showed that Fenty remains popular there but that Gray would narrowly beat him citywide in a two-way race.

Political observers said Gray needs to win overwhelmingly in wards 7 and 8 in Southeast while carrying Ward 5 (Northeast) and Ward 6 (Capitol Hill).

The outcome of the election could hinge on Ward 4, said Terry Lynch, a political analyst who is also executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

Fenty represented Ward 4 for six years on the council before he was elected mayor. In the 2006 Democratic primary, he received nearly 70 percent of the vote in Ward 4 in a seven-person race. But African Americans make up about 70 percent of the population in Ward 4, and recent polls show Fenty has lost ground with this community.

Willie Cooke, an African American lawyer who used to head the District's Neighborhood Legal Services Program, said he supported Fenty four years ago but plans to raise money for Gray. "Me and my wife took out our checkbooks and wrote checks for Adrian [in 2006], but now I am outraged at him," said Cooke, who lives in Ward 4. "I am sick and tired of the arrogance he has shown."

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