On Monday evening, March 28, Mayor Vincent Gray delivered his first State of the District speech after three months in office and weeks of stormy resignations, allegations and negative approval ratings.
His 8,000 word speech did not address the recent firing of former health administration employee Sulaimon Brown who accused Gray of a pay-to-play and nepotism and D.C. City Council’s probes into those allegations, nor did it address repercussions for City Council chairman Kwame Brown’s two fully-loaded SUVs that ended up being illegally procured.
However, after a reporter asked about the admittance in a press conference after the speech, Gray said, “I wanted to talk about the issues affecting the city. The reason I ran in the first place was to advance the educational outcome for children and provide opportunities for self improvement.”
He also mentioned that he had not wanted the main topic of headlines to be his troubles, but the “real” issues affecting the city, and that there would be accountability to those who violate the public trust: “If people violate the public trust they will be fired. There are missteps that have been made and at the end of the day I’ll take responsibility for them. And if I’m going to take the weight for them, I intend to bring the weights back to where it belongs.”
The speech, titled “One City…Rising to the Challenge,” did focus heavily on unifying the city, and Gray addressed the challenges that he’s faced since taking office. Last week, for instance, the Census released statistics that showed the District’s African American population down to 50 percent.
“The facts are troubling, but they bear acknowledging: there are parts of this city where over half of our high school students do not graduate. In some neighborhoods, one out of every three adults is unemployed.”
Tammy McKinney, 41, attended the speech and said she felt he’d addressed the issues facing her home in Ward 6.
“We’ve seen the development on H Street Northeast and a few good things come through, but we don’t hear as much about Wards 6, 7 or 8 than we do the others,” said McKinney, who was born in DC. “Why would people come out here? There are not restaurants and no shopping. I’m hopeful, but unsure.”
Gray spoke of the dividing line between the Anacostia River and the hope that it would one day resemble other notable rivers in the world: the Thames in London, the Charles River in Boston or the San Antonio River Walk in Texas.
“At its widest, the Anacostia River spans barely half a mile —but when you pass over it, it can feel like you’ve left one continent for another…it should be a unifying force between the east and west.”
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton praised the Mayor for not glossing over the $322 million budget gap that will lead to budget cuts, to be released on Friday.
“I appreciate that he didn’t gloss over the tough issues. People will be very disappointed when they see these cuts, though we’ve seen it come worse to other parts of the country.”
Gray delivered his speech at Eastern High School in Ward 5, where the poverty rate stood at 20 percent in 2009.
“If I have been repetitive on this topic, it’s because it is vitally important for us to be honest about how things will change,” Gray said. “Some of the agencies that we depend upon will be asked to make do with less. We cannot and will not use budget gimmicks to close the gap.”
He compared the city government after the cuts to, “a lean athlete after a period of intense training: with a government that is leaner, but also one that is stronger.”