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Just hours after win, Gray faces big challenges

Over the next two months, Vincent C. Gray, the District's presumptive mayor-elect, plans to hold town hall meetings in all eight wards, highlighting his "one city" campaign theme.
Over the next two months, Vincent C. Gray, the District's presumptive mayor-elect, plans to hold town hall meetings in all eight wards, highlighting his "one city" campaign theme. (Katherine Frey)

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 16, 2010

On his first day as the District's presumptive mayor-elect, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said he plans to spend the next two months trying to "heal" a city that seems sharply divided by race, class and geography.

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Although he handily defeated Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the overall vote in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Gray and the mayor split the city's eight wards evenly, and in the District's most racially homogenous neighborhoods, Gray won by 4 to 1 margins in black areas and Fenty won by 4 to 1 in white areas.

Gray, who faces nominal opposition in the November general election, said Wednesday that he will reach out to Republicans, independents and Democrats who didn't vote for him to assure them that he will not "turn back the clock" to the era of inefficiency and corruption that many associate with earlier D.C. administrations.

Over the next two months, Gray plans to hold town hall meetings in all eight wards, highlighting his "one city" campaign theme and his reputation for soliciting a broad range of opinions before making decisions. Gray also unveiled a Web site where residents can leave him messages.

Although Fenty emphasized that he will remain engaged for the remaining 100 days of his term, Gray will immediately face a series of challenges that will help define how he might serve as the District's sixth mayor. Speculation about the future of the city's public schools began instantly as Gray continued to decline to say whether he would seek to retain controversial Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, and Rhee, who earlier said she could not imagine working with Gray, remained publicly noncommittal about her next steps.

"We are going to be moving full speed ahead," Gray said outside the Washington Court Hotel, where he slept after he celebrated his nine-point win over Fenty. "I look forward to that, but I also look forward to people holding me accountable."

Concerns about approach

Gray also faces questions about whether his collegial, collaborative approach can work in a city where voters appear deeply divided over what they expect from their local government.

Although about 80 percent of voters in majority-black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River supported Gray, an equal portion of residents in affluent, predominantly white areas of Northwest Washington voted for Fenty. The results suggest that the District, long a city of economic extremes, remains split over how best to achieve effective government, financial stability, education reform and safe streets.

When Fenty took office in 2007, he began a national search to fill top-level administration jobs, an approach, he said, that helped draw new talent to a government with a long-standing reputation for inefficiency. But Fenty's early hires - and the fact that he chose a city administrator, police chief, fire chief, attorney general and schools head who are not black - contributed to his downfall, leading some African Americans to consider him out of touch with the city's majority population.

Gray said he will not make decisions about his transition or personnel choices until after the Nov. 2 election. But he is expected to begin informal discussions soon about the shape of the administration that will take over in January.

Supporters of Gray and Fenty will watch especially closely as Gray begins what will probably be sensitive discussions about Rhee, who is one of the most admired and most disliked figures in the city. Since taking over the 45,000-student system in 2007, Rhee has won national acclaim for her efforts to boost test scores, refurbish schools and recruit a new wave of younger, more innovative teachers. But she also became a symbol, especially to some black voters, of what Fenty called his "brash" manner and impatience for change.


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