Vincent Gray wins key endorsement from fellow council member in D.C. mayor race

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray faced each other two weeks before the mayoral election in a Washington Post Live debated moderated by The Post's Eugene Robinson.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray picked up a potentially key endorsement in the mayor's race Thursday when one of his colleagues, Mary M. Cheh, threw her support behind him and said she will work to convince her constituents in Upper Northwest to vote for him.

Cheh (D-Ward 3), one of the most progressive and activist members of the council, has been a frequent critic of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's ethics and governing style, and has led several council probes of the administration's conduct. After staying on the sidelines for much of the campaign, Cheh joined Gray at Pete's Apizza on Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown to try to "bring a certain level of comfort" to Ward 3 residents who are thinking about voting for the chairman in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

"After a few years, I have become an admirer of this man, and I don't say that lightly," said Cheh, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who was elected to the council with 70 percent of the vote in 2006. "I wanted to be able to say to my residents what I have been able to observe close up, and since that's a perspective my residents can't share, it might be an important data point for them to take into account."

Cheh said she will stress to voters that Gray also supports school reform, even though he refuses to say whether he would retain Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Cheh's support could help Gray make inroads in one of the few remaining Fenty strongholds in the city. Although a Washington Post poll published Sunday showed Gray with a 17 percentage point lead among likely Democratic voters citywide, Fenty holds a commanding advantage in Ward 3. Gray's advisers say that if he can make a dent in Fenty's support in Ward 3, the mayor would have few paths to victory.

As Gray pushes his campaign deeper into Ward 3, Fenty spent Thursday trying to round up support from Hispanic voters, a small but potentially influential voting bloc in a close race.

The mayor led Latino supporters in a brief chant of "S?, se puede" in front of Haydee's Restaurant in Mount Pleasant, the Ward 1 neighborhood where he grew up and an enclave of Latino residents and culture. Between 30 and 40 supporters were transported by van to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Judiciary Square to take advantage of early voting.

The Washington Hispanic, a regional Spanish-language newspaper, endorsed Fenty at the Thursday morning event. Publisher Nelly Carri?n said in an interview through an interpreter that the city is moving in the "right direction."

She said Fenty deserved reelection because "whoever starts the task should be allowed to finish," though she said both Fenty and Gray are "good candidates."

Haydee Venegas, who co-owns Haydee's with her husband, was more enthusiastic, saying she sees less crime and homelessness in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. She said she was also impressed with Fenty's education reform and work with small businesses. She added that his administration backed some restaurants' fight to allow live music.

But Hispanics, who could make up 3 to 5 percent of the electorate, might split their votes between Fenty and Gray. Leaders of the D.C. Latino Caucus, the official voice of Hispanics within the Democratic Party, are working hard to get out the Hispanic vote for Gray.

As both campaigns continue efforts to turn out supporters for early voting, which began Monday and shifts to four additional locations Saturday, Fenty also unveiled a 30-second television spot that attacks Gray's record as head of the Department of Human Services in the early 1990s. The hard-hitting ad accuses Gray of losing tax dollars and "track of foster children" as the head of the agency when he was part of Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's administration.

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