Gray to pay 1st visit to White House

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray is billing it as a "get-to-know-ya meeting."

On Wednesday, Gray (D) will make his first visit to the White House for a luncheon with the man who will soon be his most famous and powerful constituent, President Obama.

Gray's 45-minute visit with Obama will mark what many believe will be the incoming mayor's best opportunity to make his case about what he and the residents of the District expect from the president. Obama still holds considerable clout over how the mayor and D.C. Council spend tax dollars and use the powers granted to them under Home Rule.

Gray, who has had only two fleeting introductions to Obama, said he will use the lunch - in a small private dining room near the Oval Office - to try "to establish a relationship that will have substantiative, enduring, value for the city."

Although Gray is finalizing his talking points for the meeting, he said he would probably bring up voting rights, federal funding for early childhood education and the planned relocation of the Department of Homeland Security to the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington.

The leaders of D.C. Vote have told Gray to ask Obama to publicly pledge to veto any bill that includes language that would undo local laws, such as the city's support for same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and needle exchange.

But Gray, the D.C. Council chairman who will be sworn in as mayor Jan. 2, said the meeting's goal is to make a new friend. "I want to have the kind of relationship where we can have a free exchange," Gray said. "I would want this to be episodic."

Julius W. Hobson Jr., a consultant who headed the city's intergovernmental affairs office in the late 1980s, said Gray should strive to continue what has been steady improvement over the years in relationships between presidents and D.C. mayors.

In the 1980s, then-President Ronald Reagan (R) took little interest in District affairs and had almost no interaction with then-Mayor Marion Barry (D), Hobson said.

Things improved under President George H.W. Bush (R). But Hobson said the real breakthrough in presidential-mayoral relationships occurred after Bill Clinton's election to the White House in 1992.

"Most people don't realize Clinton and Marion got along really well," said Hobson, noting Clinton's election marked the second time since Home Rule that a Democrat sat in the White House.

Even though George W. Bush's election as president in 2000 ushered the GOP back into dominance of the federal government, Hobson said Bush and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) strengthened their ties following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And after Obama's 2008 election set off a wave of excitement across the heavily Democratic District, he invited Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to a well-publicized lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl a few days before the inauguration.

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