Friendships that last have molded Vincent Gray's life

Indulging his love of softball, Vincent C. Gray, D.C. Council chairman and candidate for mayor, makes the play at first base during a game at Randall Field in Southwest.
Indulging his love of softball, Vincent C. Gray, D.C. Council chairman and candidate for mayor, makes the play at first base during a game at Randall Field in Southwest. (Evy Mages)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010

When D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray decided to "take a civil rights stand" in 1963 by becoming one of the first African Americans to rush a fraternity at George Washington University, he visited more than a half-dozen fraternities to see if any of them wanted him.

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon didn't allow him to come into the house, and no one spoke to him at the Tau Kappa Epsilon house, Gray recalled recently. The brothers at Sigma Nu politely told Gray "no Negroes," and then one of them tried to pick a fight with him.

But when Gray, then a junior, showed up at Tau Epsilon Phi, a predominately Jewish fraternity, he was greeted by Bruce C. Bereano, who immediately liked Gray and helped convince the other brothers that despite the national fraternity's ban on blacks and Asians they should admit him.

"He became my little brother in the fraternity," said Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist. "Since then, he and I have remained very close personal friends, not just fraternity brothers but just like real brothers."

Bereano is part of a wide network of people Gray leans on for political and personal advice at crucial moments, such as when his wife, Loretta, died of cancer 12 years ago. And as Gray challenges Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, his friends have reached out to D.C. voters on his behalf, even as he attempts to beat back criticism that some of those friendships are connected to the city's failed leadership of decades past.

Interviews with more than a dozen of Gray's fraternity brothers and oldest friends -- some of whom share his enthusiasm for hand-dancing and softball -- bespeak their loyalty to him. They say they are drawn to his work with the underprivileged and his sense of humor.

"The reason they respect him so much, and the reason they did 47 years ago, is he has a lot of integrity," said Herb Miller, a local developer and one of Gray's fraternity brothers. "You always get the same sense of warmth."

To underline the value he places on friendship, Gray identifies "Sex and the City" as his favorite TV series. He has seen almost every episode and can recount in great detail the fictional lives of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha.

"I like the relationships between the ladies," Gray said. "I really enjoy the friendships that they enjoy between each other. . . . The symbolism for me is their ability to support one another."

But some of Gray's real-life friendships have become fodder for the Fenty campaign. The mayor's advisers say that to understand Gray, voters should look at his strong ties to some of the District's political veterans, such as, former mayors Marion Barry (D) (now the council member from Ward 8) and Sharon Pratt (D). They warn that such connections would lead Gray, if elected, to repopulate city government with throwbacks who were responsible for policies that drove the city to near-insolvency in the 1990s.

"Many of the people who now advise Mr. Gray are the same people who gave advice when the city went bankrupt in the 1990s," said Bill Lightfoot, Fenty's campaign chairman, who was a council member at the time. "They didn't perform well in the past and they won't perform well in the future."

The Fenty campaign calls Gray part of the "old guard," but Gray, who has become a more aggressive candidate in recent weeks, counters that such "rhetoric" is insulting. "Who is the old guard?" he asked. "Beyond the rhetoric that is embedded in that, I don't even know what it means. There is no old guard sitting in the wings waiting to be brought back into government."

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