By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 11:11 PM
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray took his citywide listening tour to Upper Northwest on Tuesday, seeking to connect with residents in an area of the city where three out of four Democrats backed Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in last month's Democratic primary.
Gray, who plans to hold a town hall meeting in all eight wards of the city before the Nov. 2 general election, stressed to Ward 3 voters he would continue to champion school reform and drew widespread applause when he suggested that residents engage in civil disobedience to try to gain more rights from Congress.
In the days leading up to Gray's forum at St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Tenleytown, many believed he would be dogged with questions about schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who remains popular in Ward 3 but would face an uncertain future in a Gray administration. But Rhee's name came up only in passing, allowing Gray to instead speak broadly about his support for education reform.
"We have had some interesting days and I understand that, and that is the nature of reform, but I honestly don't believe that reform and collaboration are mutually exclusive," Gray said. "I think we can work effectively together in order to achieve that."
Many of the questions touched on Gray's plans for addressing the city's budget shortfall while avoiding deep cuts to services such as libraries and senior housing.
Gray announced that economist Alice Rivlin, a former chair of the city's control board during the financial distress of the 1990s, and former mayor Anthony Williams will join his transition team to work on financial and budget issues. And Gray suggested he may try to build political support for a tax increase.
"I think if we can make the case that the vulnerable are going to be imperiled, I think there are going to be a lot of people who are going to entertain some sort of tax increase," Gray told the standing-room-only crowd.
In the heavily Democratic District, Gray became the mayor-elect after he handily defeated Fenty in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. But Gray's victory can be attributed to the massive margins he racked up in Northeast and Southeast Washington, where resentment of Fenty ran high.
But Ward 3 was Fenty country. Gray received just 20 percent of the vote in Ward 3, which includes Glover Park, Cleveland Park, Van Ness, Forest Hills, American University Park, Tenleytown, Friendship Heights, Palisades and parts of Chevy Chase.
Gray faces only nominal opposition in the general election, but a grass-roots write-in Fenty campaign has been gathering steam. An hour before Gray's town hall, the organizers of the Write-In Fenty campaign held a press conference a block away to announce they are stepping up their efforts.
John Hlinko, a Georgetown resident, said the write-in effort would include dozens of volunteers who would fan out across the city in the coming days, as well as staff polling sites Nov. 2, to urge voters to write Fenty's names on their ballots. But because there's almost no money to wage a campaign, few observers think that Hlinko can succeed.
Repeating many themes he touched on during the primary, Gray seemed to win support from the audience as he delved deeper into his philosophy of governing.
After being branded during the primary as a micromanager, Gray repeatedly stressed he has no intention of "becoming the principal" of individual schools. Yet Gray questioned several personnel decisions made by Rhee, including the ouster of several teachers.
"These are the kind of teachers we need to keep in public education," Gray said.
Gray drew the loudest applause when he vowed to make city contractors hire more District residents and when he spoke about renewing the push on Capitol Hill for voting rights and the ability to tax the incomes of Maryland and Virginia residents who work in the city. "Will I go up there? Absolutely," Gray said. "But I don't want to go up there and see nobody behind me. I want to be able to go up there and say, 'Senator, look out your window, do you see all those people? They are angry as heck."