Gray opens city tour among friends

Democratic mayoral nominee Vincent C. Gray hugs D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., front, before the Ward 5 meeting.
Democratic mayoral nominee Vincent C. Gray hugs D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., front, before the Ward 5 meeting. (Astrid Riecken)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Democratic mayoral nominee Vincent C. Gray kicked off his getting-to-know-you tour Tuesday night in the welcoming Ward 5 - second only to his Ward 7 home turf in the number of votes cast for him in the September primary.

Gray (D) will hold town hall meetings in all eight wards in the next three weeks as he campaigns for the Nov. 2 general election.

Though he faces no formidable opponent and incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has endorsed him, Gray's biggest obstacle appears to be winning over the mayor's supporters. With the election a month away, there is increasing buzz surrounding a write-in campaign that has morphed from a _blank"Run, Fenty, Run" Facebook page into a formal political action committee dubbed Save DC Now.

On Tuesday night in the packed auditorium of the Community Academy Public Charter School in Ward 5, Gray called the series of town hall meetings an effort to bring residents together with his campaign theme of "One City," even though some people think the city's divisions will never be mended.

"That doesn't mean you should stop trying to achieve it," he said.

The 1,000-seat auditorium was mostly filled with residents from all parts of the ward, including Michigan Park and Bloomingdale, as well as those who live in other wards. Among those in the crowd, some of whom lined the walls and stood in the back of the room, were campaign workers and volunteers for Gray and low-level members of the Fenty administration.

Gray sounded as much like a candidate as a likely mayor as he fielded questions and comments about everything from educating deaf children in public schools to the homeless to bike lanes and streetcars to taxes.

Though Gray said his background in human services helps him understand the social crises facing the city, he added later that "everything is on the table" when it comes to taxes and cuts in light of the city's budget deficit.

"It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be painless," he told the crowd.

Gray also told the audience that he welcomed criticism. "I invited you to the party. As my parents would say, come on in, the water's fine," he said.

The biggest crowd response of the night came after a 13-year-old Hardy Middle School student lamented the removal of principal Patrick Pope. She rattled off several problems at the school, centered mostly around class scheduling.

Although Gray said he did not understand why Pope was removed, he said he would not micromanage the school system. "I do think people are owed answers on why changes are made," he said.

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