VINCENT GRAY — CLOSE TO THE VEST
As he takes helm as mayor, D.C.’s anti-Fenty shows he also keeps his circle tight
Vincent C. Gray will be sworn in as the District’s mayor on Sunday after a bruising election in which he promised to continue school reform and reduce crime, just not in as brash or insular a manner as his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty.
But over the past month, as he has put together his team and shown signs of how he will govern, Gray, 68, has revealed himself to be a lot like Fenty — but with a smile and genial disposition. Fenty, 39, was often criticized for keeping a counsel of one. Gray’s circle of influence is also small — a handful of friends, family and supporters.
Close advisers say the new mayor is also known for looking inward.
“He is his own compass,” said Lorraine Green, an Amtrak executive and confidante who is helping him build his administration. “He trusts his own judgment. He’s 99 percent right.”
Out of two dozen announced appointments to his Cabinet, seven are Fenty holdovers, including Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and school construction guru Allen Y. Lew, who will become city administrator. Four Cabinet picks are new to District government.
The selections were shrouded in secrecy, similar to Fenty’s top picks. The initial falling-out between the two men, in fact, traces to the 2007 appointment of Michelle A. Rhee as chancellor. Gray found out around midnight, just hours before her introduction.
In similar fashion, two days before Gray announced that he would retain Lanier, he dined at Morton’s steakhouse with Kris Baumann, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, which has criticized Lanier’s tenure. Gray didn’t say a word.
Similar points have been raised by the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and the local firefighters union, which said they were not consulted, as promised, about the selection of the head of the
Office of Human Rights or the new fire chief.
“Not only is he operating like Fenty, this is the kind of behavior he criticized Fenty for,” Baumann said. “It’s not just about feelings and making people feel good. What happened to all the promises?”
Gray said in an interview that he never promised constituencies and labor unions that he would wipe the administration clean of all Fenty appointments.
“I said from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to turn everybody out,” he said. “Ultimately you end up with a blend. You want people who won’t have a learning curve and who understand the dynamics of the city. These are people we went after.”
Setting a new course
Fenty die-hards, meanwhile, continue to criticize Gray’s terminations of Fenty administration stars, such as transportation director Gabe Klein. With his push for bike lanes, streetcars and other methods of transportation, Klein promoted a more pedestrian-friendly capital. But bike lanes and streetcars, for some, symbolized gentrification and misplaced priorities while poverty and unemployment strangled many neighborhoods.
But the biggest hurdle for Gray is how to handle Fenty’s school legacy. Nationally, Fenty is viewed as the hard-charging phenom felled by a disgruntled teachers union.
In October, Gray and Fenty jointly announced that Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s deputy, would take the helm of schools as interim chancellor after Rhee’s departure. Despite other appointments he has made in education, Henderson retains the “interim,” leaving Fenty supporters and school-reform advocates uncertain about the future of city schools.
“You don’t have an interim police chief. You don’t have an interim fire chief. You don’t have an interim city administrator,” said Terry Lynch, a Fenty supporter. “By having an interim chancellor, you make it difficult to keep top staff or to attract top staff. Who would want to be tied to that ship?”
Gray is not swayed by the criticism, saying he will follow a national search process as required by the District law that allowed mayoral control of the schools.
Campaign strategist Mo Elleithee said the administration will look a lot like Gray’s campaign — a mix of longtime supporters and newcomers.
But some longtime supporters question whether Gray has gone too far to make amends with Fenty supporters. After the primary, Gray cast himself as Fenty’s polar opposite when it comes to listening, holding town hall meetings in every ward of the city. But he repeatedly said that he knew the reason some people didn’t vote for him was because they didn’t know him.
The town halls were also to introduce himself to residents in wards 2, 3 and 6 — communities where a majority of voters cast ballots for Fenty.
Internet discussion groups for neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River have lit up with complaints that the former Ward 7 council member’s transition team does not have enough representatives from their communities.
This is Gray’s indoctrination as mayor, said Sterling Tucker, the city’s first elected council chairman.
“Every mayor has to go through that,” Tucker said. “You take any segment of the population. They say, ‘We put you in office. We own a part of you.’ They don’t want to be ignored.”
Gray and Green
Within Gray’s transition team, members privately complain that they learned quickly they were not part of Gray’s inner circle. At the center is Lorraine Green. Gray and Greenmet as employees under Mayor Sharon Pratt in the 1990s. Gray was director of the Department of Human Services, and Green headed the Office of Personnel. Together, they cut thousands of positions from the fiscally challenged human services agency. Green said that Gray tried to talk to every employee who was being laid off to explain why.
Their bond is professional. They rarely socialize, though they also bonded through the deaths of their spouses.
“My relationship with Lorraine is basically business, but without the chemistry we wouldn’t be able to work together,” Gray said.
Gray also relies on advice from his children. Carlos Gray rallied young Washingtonians for his father’s election. Jonice Gray Tucker, a Yale Law School graduate, became a behind-the-scenes player. Formerly an associate at Skadden Arps, she introduced her father to lawyer Robert S. Bennett, best known for representing President Bill Clinton.
Gray tapped Bennett to head a pro-bono, independent probe into D.C. Council member Marion Barry’s use of personal contracts. Early last year, Bennett concluded that there had been a conflict of interest, and the council censured Barry and stripped him of his committee chairmanship.
The move helped cast Gray as a politician who could overlook political alliances in governing. The censure took place around the same time that a council investigation into contracts involving Fenty’s fraternity brothers was in full swing.
Tucker, now a partner at BuckleySandler, also came to her father’s rescue on primary day when she observed what she believed to be voter suppression. With the backing of her firm, she represented her father’s campaign with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
She said her father has come to trust her over the past six years or so as she has evolved in her professional career.
“Occasionally, he listens to me,” she said, laughing. “As he says, I will always be the child.”
When Tucker, 35, was dealing with her own personal dilemma in 2009 of deciding whether to switch jobs, she went to her father’s office at the John A. Wilson Building. From 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., they talked it out.
“Why should you go? What do other people think?” she recalled him asking. “I said, ‘ Are you ever going to give me advice?’ He said, ‘I am helping you. You are going to come to a decision yourself.’ ”
“He gives you a menu of options,” Tucker said.
Vincent C. Gray will be sworn in as the District’smayor around 10 a.m. Sunday at theWalter E. Washington Convention Center. He will be the sixth person to hold the position.
Mayor-elect Vincent Gray works on his inauguration speech Thursday in his old office in the John A. Wilson Building.