Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of profiles on the candidates running for D.C. mayor in 2014. Click here to read all the profiles.
Mayor Vincent Gray has lived in D.C. his entire life. Before getting into politics, he spent decades working in human services and with non-profit organizations.
Gray was elected to the D.C. Council in 2004, representing Ward 7; two years later, he won a special election to become council chair.
U.S. Attorney Ron Machen says the 2010 election, in which Gray defeated incumbent Adrian Fenty, “was compromised by back room deals, secret payments and a flood of unreported cash.” Several people who worked on Gray’s campaign have pleaded guilty to felonies related to more than $600,000 in off-the-books funds meant to help Gray win. The mayor has steadfastly denied knowledge of the “shadow campaign” and says he will not seek a plea deal if he is indicted.
In a recent interview with WNEW D.C. Bureau Chief Matt DelSignore, Gray outlined his positions on several issues.
In the coming years, Gray hopes to continue implementing early childhood education programs in schools. He also pledges to focus on reform in middle schools because many parents remove their children from D.C.’s public school system when they reach that grade level. Gray has long spoken of extending the length of school days; he says talks are in the works to stagger the work hours of school staffers so some of them could arrive later and stay later. Gray is unequivocal in his support for Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Gray recently made a $187 million funding commitment to expanding the availability of affordable housing. He is the only major candidate who supports asking Congress to give D.C. the right to raise its century-old height limit, enabling the District to increase its housing inventory by building up.
Despite his rivals calling the recent increase in homelessness a “crisis,” Gray points to natural “ebbs and flows” in the population. In addition to government programs, he’s asking the real estate community and the religious community to contribute to the efforts to get more people into permanent homes.
DC UNITED STADIUM
The details of a proposed land swap that would bring a new soccer stadium to Buzzard Point and give control of the Reeves Center to a private developer have remained a mystery to most. Some parts of the proposal have yet to be finalized. Gray says appraisals of all the relevant properties are happening now, and to those who wonder whether D.C. will get the best deal, Gray responds, “We’re not gonna give away anything.”
If D.C. United gets a new venue at Buzzard Point, what will become of the team’s current home, RFK Stadium? “My goal would be, ultimately, to bring our [Washington] football team back to the District of Columbia.” Gray rejects an idea floated by councilmember and mayoral candidate Vincent Orange to build a 100,000-seat superdome.
While he supports the bill passed in D.C. Council that would decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana, Gray is not ready to back full legalization of the drug yet. He has questions about how it would be regulated.
POLICE AND FIRE
Gray calls himself a “big fan” of MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, praising her community policing efforts. He stands by embattled Fire and EMS Chief Ken Ellerbe and some of the reforms he has implemented.
Don’t expect any reduction in the number of traffic cameras should the mayor win a second term. “We’re gonna do whatever we can to protect people.”
Even as his attorney, Bob Bennett, acknowledged the possibility that Gray could be indicted on charges related to the “shadow campaign” that helped him win in 2010, the mayor has denied any knowledge of the scheme and challenges anyone to find “one hint of impropriety in the way this administration has carried out its functions.” Gray stands by what he calls “an honest adminstration,” adding, “I feel good about what I’ve done with my life.”
(Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted one day before Jeffrey Thompson’s plea deal was announced. See our coverage of Thompson’s plea deal and Gray’s response here and his denial during the State of the District address here.)