On Thursday, June 2 at 5:30 p.m. join the Washington Blade for a “Conversation with the Mayor” at City Hall. We will have the chance to hear Mayor Gray talk about his commitment to the LGBT community and how he sees us as a part of his “One City” vision. Blade editor Kevin Naff will pose questions to the mayor to solicit his views and proposed policies as he implements that vision for the people of the District.
Despite some early missteps it appears the mayor is moving the city forward. I think it is important to look at what the mayor talked about during his campaign and then judge for yourself what is actually happening within the administration. It may not be fast enough for some and there is the lingering distrust over the mistakes made and who is actually advising him, but no one can deny that the mayor is keeping an absolutely grueling schedule of work and appearances and dealing with many of the critical issues facing our city. He presented an on-time and balanced budget to the Council. He is being well received across the city at every meeting and discussion whether it is was the Ward by Ward budget town halls or at the myriad of events he has attended and spoken at in the nearly five months he has been mayor.
While some skeptics, including the Washington Post, wondered how he would be received on Capitol Hill after being arrested and leading some demonstrations against the Congress, the mayor came away from the first hearing on his budget with a surprise commitment from Republican Chairman Issa (R-Calif.) to look at providing some form of limited budget autonomy and ensuring that the city will not be caught up in another federal government shut-down. The Washington Post felt that only merited a page three Metro story, but most others agree that it has the potential to be a big step forward.
The most visible difference between Vince Gray and our last two mayors is that he actually enjoys spending time with and talking to people. He is well informed about so many issues that he consistently impresses with his ability to discuss in detail the most arcane subjects and how they impact government and various constituencies. The general consensus is that he is the most knowledgeable person in the Wilson Building. Following is an example of the grueling schedule he keeps:
April 8, 2011, was the day Congress threatened to close the federal government and shut down the District government as well. The mayor was up early as usual. His public schedule began at 10:30 a.m. with remarks at a groundbreaking for new townhomes in Southeast. Among some of the other listed events on his calendar were desk time, emergency meetings with agency heads and a meeting with his Education Transition team at 3 p.m. to present and discuss their final transition report. I was part of that team and as the day wore on was sure the mayor would cancel the meeting due to the threatened shutdown. But the meeting began at 3:15 with the mayor there in mind and body despite everything else that was happening.
Issues including general school reform, special education, charter schools, and the IMPACT teacher evaluation system were discussed and the mayor was clearly up to speed on each. He knew in detail how much money other cities were allocating to charter schools for facilities, the number of children in special education programs now and how many were anticipated to enter in coming years and issues involving parental involvement in the schools. His knowledge base was impressive and he wasn’t averse to disagreeing with members of the transition team but did so in a way that left everyone with the feeling that he understood their point of view and respected it.
He left the meeting at 4:15 to lead a cabinet meeting finalizing plans for shutting down the government. As he left he asked if I was going to the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC) dinner that evening. I said I was and he said he would see me there. I was sure that he wouldn’t manage that if the government really was going to shut down.
How wrong I was. He directed his cabinet on final preparations for shutting down the government and responded to numerous media requests speaking eloquently about how outrageous it was that the city was being treated like another federal agency in this shutdown. He then kept to his evening pubic schedule along with various emergency meetings and calls.
I left the dinner at 10:15 p.m. as they were just beginning to present their awards. Someone needs to come up with a way to shorten these types of dinners so that events that begin at 6:30 p.m. don’t end up with dinner being served close to 10 p.m. As I walked into my apartment I received a text from someone at the dinner. The mayor had arrived close to 10:45 p.m. and made a great and well-received speech. As he was speaking the news broke that an agreement had been reached by Congress and the president to keep the government open. At 11:15 the mayor began a round of press calls dealing with the rumors, which turned out to be true, that part of that deal to keep the government open foisted education vouchers on the District and prohibited the District from spending its own funds on legal abortions for poor women — something 17 other states do without any interference from Congress.
In discussions with staff before he got home around midnight he was already thinking about and planning the next phase of what has been a strong response from District residents and officials, with leadership from DC Vote, to fight this Congress’ efforts to whittle away at home rule for the District’s 600,000 residents.
While investigations will continue, as they should, to make sure nothing illegal happened concerning the hiring of Sulaimon Brown, Mayor Gray is moving the city forward and doing what we elected him to do. Along with a balanced budget we have seen major expansion of the bike sharing program, continued movement on improving government operations, qualified people being recommended and placed on boards and commissions and continued forward momentum on Education Reform. There is much more to do and the mayor needs to make a decision on a permanent Chief of Staff and other agency personnel but despite some naysayers the government is moving forward.
To hear directly from the mayor, make plans to join him and the Blade on June, 2 at City Hall to find out what his plans for the future are and how he sees the LGBT community being a part of that future.
If you require accommodations to participate in this event, please inform The District of Columbia Office of Disability Rights at 202-724-5055.