For Gray, a methodical path to the mayor's office

Residents in the District, Maryland and Virginia turned out Tuesday to choose their elected officials.
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 11:23 PM

Vincent C. Gray, who defeated Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the Democratic primary by promising to be a peacemaker in District government, easily won election Tuesday by overcoming token opposition and a write-in campaign by some Fenty supporters.

The 67-year-old D.C. Council chairman's primary victory over Fenty was watched closely for its implications on post-racial politics, education reform and the changing demographics and culture of urban centers.

Such pressures prompted Gray to hold nine town-hall-style meetings, treading a difficult line as candidate, presumptive mayor-elect and soother while pledging to bridge the city's racial, class and geographic differences.

In a repeat of the primary, D.C. election officials struggled to get results out Tuesday night. The first update was not released until after 10 p.m. At 10:45, the results of fewer than 24,000 votes had been released, and Gray had 78 percent of them. Nearly 20 percent of votes were cast for a write-in candidate, although election officials did not release the names written in by voters. Assuming Fenty got the majority of those votes, the write-in campaign appeared to make inroads in predominantly white Ward 3 and gentrifying pockets of the city where voters said they were writing in the mayor out of protest and in support of school reform.

Gray's triumphant rise as the District's seventh mayor appears swift and inadvertent. In six years, he went from running the nonprofit Covenant House to mayor of the nation's capital. But his friends, advisers and one-time opponents describe him as a man who has been at the right place at the right time and always prepared to take advantage of every opportunity.

In the primary, Fenty's $5 million campaign coffers scared away most competitors. Outmatched by an army of Fenty paid workers, Gray cobbled together support from labor unions and business interests to pull off what some thought impossible a year ago.

Gray also abandoned door-to-door knocking, the campaign tool that became the stuff of politicking lore because of Fenty's holey-soled shoes in 2006. Instead, Gray met voters in their living rooms and back yards and talked to them about balancing the budget, training residents for jobs and expanding public education.

"In many ways, his campaigning style is a throwback," said former Ward 7 council member Kevin P. Chavous, unseated by Gray in 2004 in his first public-office win. "The new consultant tells you to touch as many people as possible. He touches less people, but the conversations are probably more meaningful. . . . That approach has worked for him."

'One step at a time'

A decade ago, Gray was working with low-income residents in Lincoln Heights when Chavous confronted him on the street about a rumor. "Are you running against me?" asked Chavous, who was in his second term and in a vulnerable position since waging an unsuccessful 1998 run for mayor.

"I've thought about it, Kevin," Gray told him as Fenty, Chavous's aide at the time, looked on.

Fenty reflected on the conversation as an example of Gray's methodical and political timing. "Always looking toward the political future but not rushing," Fenty told a room of Democrats on Sept. 15, the day after Gray defeated him. "Taking it one step at a time."

In an interview Tuesday outside a voting precinct in Ward 3, Gray described himself as more politically thoughtful than politically shrewd. Each time he ran for office - Ward 7 council member, chairman and mayor - he talked to people for hours and mulled strategies for months.

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