For all those who said the sky would fall if Vincent Gray were elected mayor, we now see clear proof that it hasn’t. What is clear is that the city is functioning well and economic development is stronger than ever. The mayor continues to make good on his commitment to move forward on education reform and even the Washington Post in a recent article confirms that city services, which have improved dramatically since the ‘90s, have continued to improve in the past five months of the Gray administration.
It is easy to find people to give negative quotes and the Post managed to find one for its story on Gray. That person said, “City services are one of those things you don’t think about until something doesn’t work right, but something that is of concern is reading about all of the difficulties that’s going on with members of the City Council and the mayor… If it continues for an indefinite period of time, I think it can impact quality of service.”
Well, anything can impact city services, including a federal government shutdown, but Mayor Gray and his agency heads are making sure that nothing will stop the improvement from continuing.
Michael Niebauer, in a recent Washington Business Journal interview with the mayor, found there are literally billions of dollars of projects affiliated with the city that are moving forward. Niebauer included numerous positive quotes from business leaders in the District who are working with the Gray administration. When pressed on whether the ethics issues were having an impact, Peter Corbett, CEO of D.C.’s iStrategy Labs, said, “As a business leader and tech community guy, I don’t pay attention to what politicians are doing — scandal or otherwise — and I believe my peers are largely in the same boat with me on that.”
There is much evidence that the business environment in D.C. is strong and improving. MarketWatch recently named D.C. as the best place for business for the second straight year. Just look at the $1 billion City Center project, the agreement with Walmart, a Trader Joes coming to U Street, and an apparent agreement with Microsoft to move to the St. Elizabeth’s East campus where 127 acres of new development will occur. There are also another $11 billion in projects moving through the pipeline.
Mayor Gray has been to more community events than our last two mayors combined. He is out meeting with constituents and welcoming large conventions, and their money, to the District. He has met many times with members of the LGBT community and has directed Police Chief Cathy Lanier to be more responsive to the community resulting in her reengagement on the issue of hate crimes which have been so pervasive over the last few years. Both the police and fire/EMS training academies have reopened and are taking new recruits for the first time in years. The mayor established a new Commission on HIV/AIDS, strong new testing programs and infection rates are starting to come down. There is a new treatment-on-demand program with rapid response for anyone testing positive.
The summer jobs program ran without a glitch and within budget and the city’s budget was passed without the use of gimmicks or dipping into the reserve fund. The mayor is moving on legislation to make D.C. the greenest city in the nation and working with community and environmental groups across the District to get input on this issue.
This mayor may be more deliberative but in the long run that may make for better decisions. His chief of staff, Chris Murphy, is getting great reviews and recent additions of a well-respected deputy chief of staff and communications director are helping the mayor get information out in a more cohesive way and informing people of what is being done across government.
There were the questionable hires of staff and their offspring but both are long since gone. The Sulaimon Brown fiasco is still being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office but from all I’ve seen, there is no indication the mayor himself was involved and as ethics discussions appropriately take center stage it is important to separate the mayor and his administration from the issues surrounding the Council.
The second year of his term will see some crucial tests for the mayor. They include the budget; how he works with Congress; how we maximize getting available federal funds; and how he is communicating with local residents. I believe that the forward momentum we have seen in the past year will continue and those services we all rely on will continue to improve. Now if he can only do something about DCRA.