By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 10:56 PM
President Obama met with District Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday for nearly an hour about the incoming city administration's priorities, but the two men did not come to a consensus on how best to advance the cause of District voting rights, Gray said.
Emerging from the White House after his one-hour lunch in a private dinner room off the Oval Office, Gray said his meeting went "even better" then he had expected, allowing him to press his case to a man he previously had met only in passing.
"One of the most important things to me is [that] the president wants to work closely with our city," Gray said. "He indicated to me he wants to do more in the city; he wants to do more for the city."
Gray said that, over a lunch of beef and broccoli stir-fry preceded by Gulf Coast seafood gumbo, he and Obama discussed local and federal plans for expanding early childhood education and strategies for lowering unemployment.
A White House news release said Obama "enjoyed the productive discussion and looks forward to continuing the good working relationship between his administration and the District of Columbia."
Gray said he appealed to Obama for federal help to upgrade city "infrastructure" near St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington, the future home of the Department of Homeland Security. Gray said the project, expected to bring more than 20,000 federal and construction jobs to a distressed area of the city, should be used as a linchpin for economic development in the area.
"The president recognizes it, as I do, as a real opportunity to improve the quality of life in Ward 8 and the city," said Gray, noting he and Obama discussed the 30 percent unemployment rate in Ward 8.
Before the meeting, advocates for statehood and voting rights were lobbying Gray to make a forceful request that Obama do more to speak up to Congress.
Gray said Obama reiterated that he is an "unequivocal supporter of voting rights for the District." But Gray said Obama did not immediately respond to a request that he put the city's "Taxation Without Representation" license plates on the presidential limousine.
The leaders of D.C. Vote, which lobbies for voting rights, said they also had asked Gray to request that Obama publicly pledge to veto any bill that seeks to undo a law passed by the city's government or residents, such as same-sex marriage. Gray said he did not get an opportunity to make that request.
"Please remember, there will be other meetings in the aftermath of this," Gray said.
Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report.