Gray reopens D.C.'s traditional suite of mayoral offices

Vincent C. Gray, former chairman of the D.C. Council, is sworn in as the District's mayor, becoming the sixth person to hold the position.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 9:58 PM

Two hours after being sworn in as the District's chief executive, Vincent C. Gray reopened the doors to the city's traditional suite of mayoral offices, which had been gathering dust for four years under his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty. The space was so underused that when Gray walked in for the first time three weeks ago, he encountered dead plants and, in the coat closet, a jacket inscribed with the name of another former mayor, Anthony A. Williams (D).

When Fenty (D) took office in 2007, he tore down walls on the third floor of the John A. Wilson Building to create a large, open space modeled on the "bullpen" concept used by one of his political mentors, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I). The floor plan, Fenty said then, was designed to encourage efficiency and accountability and to partly break from the relics of past administrations.

In returning to the sixth-floor suite Sunday during a public reception, Gray (D) signaled an immediate stylistic departure from Fenty, suggesting he will be a more traditional, formal mayor. But by inviting residents to tour the office on his first day as mayor, Gray said he was trying to foster a sense of openness and warmth in what one of his aides called "the people's office."

Gray's decision to forgo the bullpen, he said, was a matter of comfort, and one that seems to match the deliberative, consultative approach he employed as a mayoral candidate and chairman of the D.C. Council.

"You need to be able to have space that is somewhat private to meet with people. Just doing everything out in the open isn't conducive to getting the kind of decision making that you want or the kind of conversation you want to have," Gray said in an interview.

"It has nothing to do with transparency. It just has everything to do with giving people the comfort level to be able to speak freely and openly and, frankly, just being able to concentrate," he said.

By the time Gray took the oath of office Sunday, the wilted plants had been hauled away and the space readied with photos and memorabilia for its new occupant.

"Mr. Mayor, welcome to your office," said Gray's chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, who greeted him in the waiting area as dozens of visitors toured the space, posed for photos and asked for the mayor's autograph.

The suite Gray occupies is part of a modern addition to the more-than-100-year-old Wilson building. The hallway leading to his office is lined with nostalgic photos and awards that track the mayor's career - including his work with the developmentally disabled, the Department of Human Services, helping at-risk children and the D.C. Council. From his desk, Gray has a view of the Washington Monument and the planes taking off at Reagan National Airport.

The cream chenille furniture in the seating area is arranged like a living room, surrounded by a light-silk-covered wall and light wood paneling. There is a Nationals jersey on the wall, a Redskins pillow on the mayor's chair, and photos behind his desk of his two children and grandchildren.

"When I came up here, there was nothing but furniture, waiting for some life," said Trystin Francis, a designer who volunteered to help prepare the space.

The only area off limits to the public Sunday was the mayor's private kitchen and bathroom.

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