Seriously? What was Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) thinking? His decision to veto the D.C. Council’s 2015 spending plans was just about the lamest act of any lame-duck politician in recent local history.
Whoever advised him to take such action should be fired immediately. After all, the budget initially passed last month on a 12-to-1 vote; Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was the lone dissenter.
Translation: The bills were veto-proof.
Gray had said that he “could not, in good conscience, sign a budget that hurts seniors, taxes wellness, dramatically delays and drives up the cost of the D.C. Streetcar system, and ties the hands of future Mayors.” He asked Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to delay legislators’ summer recess for 30 days to “craft a stronger compromise.”
Didn’t Gray threaten to veto the budget earlier this year if the council didn’t pass it within the required 56 days, the normal budget procedure, rejecting the legislature’s schedule associated with the citizen-approved budget autonomy act? Gray, Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt and Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan were so adamant, they forced the council to file a lawsuit . Then last week Gray turned around and asked the council to delay the process for 30 days. Didn’t Gray help create the commission that reviewed the city’s tax codes, naming former mayor Anthony A. Williams as one of its co-chairs? Now Gray has resorted to bashing the council for embracing recommendations made by his tax commission. Didn’t Gray, as council chairman, attempt to kill the streetcar project in 2010 when it was proposed by his predecessor, executing a late-night budget reduction? That created such an uproar, he was forced to restore the funding.
Now, he is chief protector.
Is Gray auditioning for a role in the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first”?
Unsurprisingly, the council this week voted 12 to 1 to override the mayor’s veto. Several legislators highlighted programs funded in the 2015 spending plan. They also raised concerns that the mayor’s approach could have resulted in an unbalanced budget. “It’s very important we remain fiscally responsible,” Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said at Monday’s legislative session.
Gray called himself “disappointed” by the override. That’s likely an understatement. Council members have been riding roughshod over him and his administration since his primary loss. The budget veto may have been his attempt to reclaim authority. But a smart politician would have used a more effective, less embarrassing way to reassert influence.
Truth be told, the closer the mayor gets to the end of his term, the less smart he appears. Consider that he proposed to finance a new soccer stadium by insisting that part of the deal include trading land at the construction site for Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW, ignoring its historical importance while failing to appreciate the public’s perception of a giveaway to a wealthy developer. Council leadership is likely to play out the clock on the proposal, leaving the project to the next mayor.
Gray’s legacy quest may be at the center of such ineptitude and fumbles. When he walks out the door in January, he may not have a signature project that will carry his name into the future — except, perhaps, a glut of Wal-Mart stores. Every other capital project was on the drawing board when he arrived. He had the good sense to snatch the low-hanging fruit. But he has been unable to slap his label on anything substantial.
It’s not too late, however, for Gray to provide something for which he would be remembered, other than calling corrupt businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson “Uncle” or benefitting from a nearly $700,000 illegal “shadow” campaign operation.
Gray could fulfill his commitment to get families out of the D.C. General homeless shelter and into more appropriate housing. He could attempt to prevent Bush Companies of Williamsburg, Va., from destroying hundreds of affordable housing units at Museum Square in Chinatown, where mostly elderly Chinese residents and their families live. He could move to provide the opportunity for poor and working-class residents of Park Southern Apartments in Southeast to purchase their individual units; the president of the nonprofit corporation that owns the building is his erstwhile political supporter the Rev. Rowena Joyce Scott.
In other words, Gray might focus on serving the real and critical needs of District residents rather than fighting the council for every possible inch of political power or searching for that ego-gratifying marquee project.