Strings attached to Gray's coalition

Vincent C. Gray, shown at a debate in June, has built a broad base of support in his challenge of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, seated at left.
Vincent C. Gray, shown at a debate in June, has built a broad base of support in his challenge of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, seated at left. (Linda Davidson/the Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2010

In the race for the Democratic nomination for mayor, Vincent C. Gray has told supporters of District charter schools that he will provide funding parity to the 28,000 city students who attend the schools, a $140 million promise.

The D.C. Council chairman has said he is committed to training the city's workforce for jobs in emerging fields. Ward 7's jobless rate is 19 percent, and Ward 8's is near 30 percent.

And on his mayoral campaign Web site, he vows to invest in early education -- universal pre-kindergarten and universal infant and toddler education -- as well as find money for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical staff.

Gray's wide-ranging and potentially expensive policy positions have helped him amass a coalition most politicians would envy. He has received endorsements from the AFL-CIO, public employees unions, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition, the D.C. Realtors Association, nurses, social workers, and gay and Hispanic Democratic groups.

Observers say the coalition is crucial to Gray, whose war chest, at last report, was about one-tenth the $3 million amassed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. The broad support could translate into financial backing and volunteer workers, and it could bolster Gray's standing as an establishment candidate.

For the most part, supporters say Gray hasn't made specific promises, although they are drawn to his reputation for collaboration and want to be closer to the levers of power. But with the city government likely to face continuing budget shortfalls, if he is elected, Gray can expect to be tested quickly on how well he can say no.

"Anytime you win, everybody is responsible for you winning, whether you win by one vote or a landslide," said Julius W. Hobson Jr., a consultant who headed the city's intergovernmental affairs office in the late 1980s. "You didn't get there without them, and that is what [Gray] is going to face."

Council member Marion Barry (Ward 8), a former four-term mayor who has a long-standing relationship with Gray, said he had better "be prepared" for an influx of demands because "the American way is to the victor goes the spoils."

"The unions are going to come. All the advocacy groups are going to come. I'm going to come," Barry said. "I have a self-interest in this race. We want major development east of the Anacostia River. People want jobs, training programs. And he's just going to have to be prepared for that."

Some friends and advisers said privately that it might prove difficult for Gray to say no to supporters, given his big-tent management style and compassionate leanings. It was also noted that in another era, he and some of his supporters held office in a city government that wasn't known for spending money efficiently.

Gray said in an interview that he has generally shied away from making far-reaching promises and that he is up to making difficult decisions. He pointed to his experience as executive director of the D.C. Association of Retarded Citizens in the 1980s and of Covenant House of Washington in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"You want to be compassionate, but people have put me in these positions to make decisions," Gray said. "I follow two principles, and that is if I make a promise, I will do everything I can to fulfill it, and, second, if it is something I can't do, I won't make the promise in the first place."

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