Mayor Gray Looks and Sounds Like a Candidate in Tommy Wells’ Ward
by Larry Janezich
Last night, as part of its regularly scheduled June meeting, ANC 6A hosted Mayor Vincent Gray for a discussion and question and answer period concerning Ward 6 transportation projects.
The Mayor appeared relaxed and in top form as he addressed more than 50 residents who gathered in a lunchroom/auditorium at Minor Elementary School. He touted his administration’s progress in financial stability, employment, public safety and sustainability, pointing to progress in each category. Toward the end of his speech, as the Mayor cited city accomplishments and national rankings, he emphasized the importance of coaxing retail back into the city and expanding neighborhood-based public transportation in order to accommodate the city’s growing population.
The Mayor also gave the residents an update on transportation projects including forthcoming changes to pedestrian improvements on Maryland Avenue, C Street, NE; 17th and 19th Streets, and Florida Avenue. He anticipated Ward Six’s and the city’s first trolley line coming on line in the next few months following completion of testing of the trolley cars and offered ANC6A the opportunity to take a bus trip to view the car testing. A small group of District Department of Transportation (DDOT) officials joined the meeting to supplement the Mayor’s remarks and answer questions from citizens directly.
During the question and answer period, the Mayor showed no real willingness to discuss policy. He brushed off one question regarding whether the culture of testing and punishment pervading the public school system has gone awry by reiterating his support for early childhood education, longer school days, and a longer school year. But when it came to addressing specific resident problems, or steering the city’s bureaucracy to serve its residents better, the Mayor and the coterie of officials he brought with him were responsive and impressive. Issues addressed included sustainability, contractor misconduct, troublesome tree branches, and public safety.
Throughout this portion of the meeting, the Mayor seemed intent on connecting with his Capitol Hill audience. He spoke at length about his longtime loyalty to Frager’s hardware store and repeated his vow to help the store rebuild from its four-alarm fire on June 5th. He greeted some residents by name, and referred to his appearances at multiple ribbon cuttings and a memorial service in the neighborhood.
In a stellar performance, some notes the Mayor struck sounded off. In his summary of DC accomplishments, the Mayor mentioned several facts which are the result of the federal government’s presence in the city, rather than any particular policy; his reference to DC as having “the most college degrees of any city,” seemed the most glib example in this regard, given the state of DC’s education system, including its public university.
But in the main, the Mayor’s performance was a deft reminder that, under his stewardship, the city has functioned well and to a remarkable degree.
One thing that was unsaid, and was unasked, was why the Mayor came to the meeting in the first place. It could be that he and his staff have identified ANC 6A as a crucial neighborhood in the city: with a mix of residents both new and old, and also black and white, the ANC is microcosm of the city. It also has a significant number of transportation projects underway, and the Mayor might have judged it wise to bring a segment of DDOT officials to answer to local residents.
Most likely the answer is political. Does the Mayor’s visit signal that he will run again? If so, he showed real vitality last night. Or was the visit an attempt to demonstrate capable leadership against which forthcoming ethics investigations should be judged? It is impossible to predict the future, but so far the campaign to pressure Gray to resign or impugn his administration has not broken the Mayor’s stride. Unless U.S. Attorney Ron Machen’s office has a smoking gun, it seems likely that Mayor Gray will be able to fall back and rely on the vast network of connections and experience he has built upon to produce an electoral coalition.
In an administration that the mainstream press has defined and judged based largely on campaign failures, Mayor Gray reminded his audience on Capitol Hill last night that, as mayor, he has been a success.
The Mayor concluded his presentation by giving away two tickets to the Verizon Center Friday night to the audience member who could recall the three H Street restaurants visited by the Obamas–a question that seemed to congratulate both the neighborhood and the city on its development record.