The Washington Post

D.C. residents react to Vincent Gray allegations

The new allegations revealed on Monday caused Ward 5 residents to re-assess Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s worth as a leader, their neighborhood’s place in the city and the city’s place in the country. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Caren Kirkland believed in Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Four years ago during his first mayoral campaign, she hung signs and knocked on doors to help him win votes because she thought he’d tackle the concerns of longtime Washingtonians like herself.

But on Monday, Kirkland said she was repulsed by allegations made in court by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson that her mayor had known about an illegal “shadow campaign” to bolster his chances of defeating Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in 2010. Gray has not been charged with a crime.

Her faith has been squandered, she said.

“It’s left such a bad taste in my mouth,” Kirkland said as she walked to the community bulletin board in the Brookland neighborhood, at 12th and Newton streets NE. “I feel like he sold the entire city out.”

Now, she said, she is quickly trying to learn about the candidates competing against Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary. Many of her neighbors strolling Monday along 12th Street NE, a busy hub of mom-and-pop shops in Brookland, were also alarmed.

Already, the political order in the neighborhood seemed to be realigning. But the new allegations also caused residents to reassess Gray’s worth as a leader, adding to the continual debate over whether he has done enough to spread prosperity to all of Washington.

As news of Gray’s possible involvement in the shadow campaign has been revealed, the neighborhood that voted for him overwhelmingly in 2010 has experienced a dramatic loss of confidence in the mayor.

The Democrat swept Ward 5, which includes Brookland, with 75 percent of the vote. The majority was largely considered a rebuke of Fenty, whose push for bike lanes and dog parks struck many middle-class native Washingtonians in this well-established enclave as out of touch.

Sixty percent of registered Democrats in Ward 5 thought Gray was trustworthy back then, according to a Washington Post poll. But by January, only 31 percent did.

The changes brought by the city’s economic prosperity are evident along the bustling 12th Street corridor, with new businesses and high-rise condos sprouting near the Metro. The Gray campaign is evident, too, with the candidate’s signs wrapped around lampposts and tucked in the corners of a nail salon and a small Ethio­pian restaurant.

There, the owner of the Askale Cafe expressed mixed feelings.

“In this country, you are innocent until you are proven guilty,’’ said Asratie Teferra, who opened his business in the neighborhood in June. But Gray “has kept the city well and has been supportive of small business and the African community. If he’s done something wrong, he should be held accountable. Besides that, he has been good for us.”

A block from the cafe, the doors at the local CVS burst open with college students from Catholic University, seniors who have lived in the neighborhood all their lives, young families that moved there because it was more affordable.

Nathan Giles, 65, a retired computer analyst, watched them move out and about on the street corner. He said he has been excited about the way the city is changing and satisfied with the mayor’s stewardship.

“Gray has done a lot of good things for the city,” he said. “We’ve had good economic development, a lot of things are going on. We are on the verge of getting everything we need to be the next New York.”

Then Giles shook his head. As a native Washingtonian, he can remember the days when the city was known as a crime-ridden drug den and its officials were deemed incapable to lead.

“But what we don’t need is a corrupt government,” he said. “We’ve moved past that.”

One woman in her 30s rushing out of CVS said, shrugging, “I know nothing about anything, I just moved here.”

Despite their wonder at the city’s transformation, some Brookland residents are well aware that not everyone is prospering. For residents such as Kirkland, the last election was truly about the heart of the city: whether less-affluent native Washingtonians could recapture the attention to their issues that felt elusive during Fenty’s tenure .

“He didn’t need a shadow campaign to win,” Kirkland said of Gray. “We were out there working hard for him. It’s like he didn’t believe in us.”

Even before Thompson’s guilty plea, Kirkland was dissatisfied with the city’s direction. She once thought she’d be retired by now. But she is still working, as a state legislative aide in Maryland, and has to live with two other people to make rent.

She scanned the community bulletin board looking for anything more affordable in her neighborhood. A posting for a “brand new, contemporary” two-bedroom apartment caught her eye. But it cost $1,695 a month.

“With two people, I guess I could do that,” Kirkland said. “But at this rate, I’ll have to work until I’m 82. The mayor just hasn’t done enough for me.”

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Robert Samuels is a national political reporter who focuses on the intersection of politics, policy and people. He previously covered social issues in the District of Columbia.


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