As DC business, labor, and faith leaders, we take issue with the tone and underlying motivations of those attacking District Mayor Vincent Gray and his 2010 Mayoral campaign.
Many understand that this story has its roots in an earlier election, the 2006 Adrian Fenty for Mayor campaign.
Fenty excited a cross-section of the District based upon his can-do, must-do attitude, his willingness to roll up his sleeves and take his message to every DC neighborhood, and his solidly progressive legislative record, such as standing up for low income residents.
The Fenty ’06 campaign inspired many of us to invest into building what became the Fenty machine. On election night, our coalition helped Fenty win every voting precinct in the District. Yet, sadly, almost immediately after the election, we began to realize that we had created a political Frankenstein.
First, was Fenty’s decision to strip power from the elected school board. Next, Fenty placed DCPS under his direct control and hired Michelle Rhee as Chancellor.
Over the next three years, the Fenty-Rhee team would close schools, violate labor rights, and disenfranchise parents, under the guise of education reform, without much evidence of academic improvement.
Then came the pay-to-play system of awarding government contracts, the summary firing of DC employees, and the intimidation of those who dared to differ with or toe the Fenty political line.
One example of the infamous Fenty arrogance was his refusal to meet with the late civil rights leader Dorothy Height and author Maya Angelou, seen as slap in the face of all women, particularly women of color.
By late 2009, the once-beloved Fenty managed to alienate and diss nearly every group in the District.
In response, the diverse coalition that elected Fenty began looking for a new horse, an anti-Fenty.
It took months to convince Vince Gray to run against Fenty, his cronies, and their $3-5 million war-chest. Gray’s decision to take on Fenty was a political gamble of the highest order.
In 2010, Gray was ending his first term as DC Council Chair. Because of Gray’s mastery of DC’s $10 billion operation and traits of conciliation, deliberation, and collaboration was positioned for easy reelection.
When Vince Gray decided to enter the mayoral race, he had just five months to hire staff, develop position papers, design campaign messages, give speeches, recruit volunteers, secure endorsements, and raise money all sufficient enough to defeat perhaps the most organized disciplined political machine in DC history.
On election night, the Mayor’s campaign of mostly volunteers won Fenty’s own Ward and every other, save, one, Ward 3.
So upset by Fenty’s defeat, his supporters ran, albeit unsuccessfully, a Black Republican against Mary Cheh, their council rep, as pay-back for her principled decision to back Gray over Fenty. After the primary election, Gray immediately extended olive branches to the Fenty camp in the spirit of healing, party unity. Yet, the bitterness among team Fenty and his loyalists was so intense, they waged an unheard of write-in general election campaign against Gray.
When the elections were over, Gray worked to win over his former foes. He invited many Fenty supporters to his transition team and retained numerous Fenty officials such as Chief Cathy Lanier and Michelle Rhee’s number two, Kaya Henderson. Gray even elevated a key Fenty hire Alan Lew to serve as the City Administrator.
At the start of the Gray Administration, it surprised many that the most well-paid District employees were Fenty appointees. Yet, for those who knew Vince Gray, the fact he would match his words with his deeds to create One City, was of no surprise.
What is surprising was the intense sense of entitlement of Fenty backers. Instead of accepting the Mayor’s overtures of friendship, many Fenty friends were intent on thwarting and even un-doing the people’s will. The recent calls for the Mayor to resign by David Catania and Muriel Bowser, two of Fenty’s biggest Council allies are illustrative of this political opportunism.
In the end, we believe the Mayor’s track record, in its totality, should be the basis for how he should be judged. His record includes, education reform policies that respect teachers, parents, and other stakeholders, including Charter Schools. Initiatives to ensure that sustainable development reaches every DC neighborhood. Launching a health insurance exchange, as a model for health reform implementation. Improved labor-management relations.
And least we forget, last year the Mayor put his own body and liberty on the line by getting arrested for DC Statehood and dignity, garnering international attention and support for DC rights.
Today, our Mayor, the District and the rest of the nation need DC residents to unite and demand respect and fairness for Mayor Gray. Now, more than ever, the people of the District deserve “One DC.”
Geo Johnson, JD, AFSCME Council 20; Averette Mhoon Parker, MD; DC Muslim Democratic Caucus; Talib I. Karim, Esq., TEC Law Group; and Rosalind M. Parker, Esq.