Vincent Gray strode toward the microphone in front of the Washington Court Hotel Wednesday with a confident spring in his step, looking fresh and energetic.
“My God, he looks rested,” said one of the dozens of reporters, photographers, and television crewmembers who had gathered here around noon.
Amazingly, Gray looked, talked and acted sharp, like a man with eight hours of sleep under his belt. Which probably wasn’t so. He was giving his first press conference as the winner of the District of Columbia’s Democratic Primary over incumbent Adrian Fenty, getting a surprisingly solid six-point victory with 53% of the vote to Fenty’s 47%. The last count had Gray with 59,285 votes and Fenty with 50,850 votes.
Given that only four years ago Fenty swept every precinct and every ward en route to a stunning win over City Council Chairperson Linda Cropp, becoming the city’s youngest mayor in the short history of home rule, Gray’s victory, which wasn’t really nailed down until the wee hours of the morning, was an astounding and probably historic turn-around.
It was also a clear sign that Gray had been correct early in his campaign when he said that the city was never more divided. “I am humbled by the victory we won,” Gray said. “And I am thankful for all the people across the city that made this possible with their votes. But I realize that there were also many people who did not vote for me, and I want to reach out to them. I want to unite this city once again.
The victory was achieved – it’s safe to say – along racial and economic lines, with many black voters favoring Gray over Fenny. Fenty lost because many voters felt excluded from the changes that were occurring under Fenty, especially in school reform. It was a battle over style and voters apparently preferred Gray’s evident style of consensus-making, thoughtfulness and inclusion. Fenty had plenty of warning that this personality, style, and character issue was important to many people. First revealed in a Washington Pots poll in January, it was cited as the main cause for Gray’s double-digit lead in a Post poll several weeks ago.
“Now is the time to move forward,” Gray said at the press conference. “[Let] now be the time for the city to unite.”
Now was a time many reporters were prodding Gray to say what was coming next, which is to say that they found ways to ask the questions about the fate of the often-controversial school chancellor Michelle Rhee. During the campaign Gray was asked at every turn whether he would fire Rhee. He never did say. He wasn’t saying now either. “I put in a call to her,” he said. “We will be sitting down and talking. I haven’t heard back yet. I imagine she’s busy. She’s running our schools, after all.”
Other than announcing that there would be a transition team, Gray in fact would not deal with names and faces. “I’m not talking about personnel decisions right now,” he said. “There will be time enough for that. We are still facing serious problems right now, especially on budget matters. I’m still the Chairman of the City Council.”
He was asked who would head the transition team or who would be part of it. “It’s a process,” he said.
“Yes,” Tom Sherwood of NBC 4 said, “but will it move quickly?”
“I talked with Mayor Fenty today,” Gray said. “We had a great conversation. I know that he loves this city, and wants nothing but the best for the city. He assured he would do everything he could to help with the transition.”
Gray said he got no indication that Fenty might be considering a run in the general election as an independent. “I didn’t get any sense of that,” Gray said.
“I meant everything I said about transparency in my administration,” he said. “This is going to be an open government. I want people to feel empowered, not disenfranchised. My door will be open. And for the press, I’ll be having regular press conferences.”
“The onus is obviously on me now,” Gray said. “I expect to be held accountable.”
Winning the democratic primary meant that Gray is all but assured of winning the general election in November and will become Washington’s oldest elected mayor. Although, as was noted, he sure didn’t look it or act it.
Election night, in fact, was full of confusion and uncertainty until well past midnight. At the hotel where Gray held a gathering for his followers, a strange atmosphere prevailed early in the night, and lasted well until midnight. Nobody knew anything. For an event full of politicos and campaign workers, the silence was nerve-wracking. Nary a rumor or piece of gossip managed to surface. All people knew was that there were no results forthcoming from the Board of Elections, where a major case of the slows and computer glitches were occurring.
Fenty did not concede until, “…we have official results from the Board of Elections.” The delays from the Board of Elections were heavily criticized by followers of both candidates and frustrated news reporters from all media. Even the bloggers and internet world couldn’t come up with a single voting result.
Gray, it’s now clear, will also be joined by Kwame Brown, who fended off challenger Vincent Orange to win the Democratic Primary for the City Council Chairman position, Gray’s old job. “I look forward to working with Kwame, who ran a fine campaign, and with whom I’ve already had a great working relationship…” said Gray.
In the other city-wide election, Phil Mendelson at last overcame the great Michael D. Brown confusion, handily winning over the shadow senator, a late entry in the race whom polls showed was leading , mostly because voters confused him with Michael A. Brown, a current member of the city council who was not running.