Vincent Gray has entered the building. And what an entrance it was.
After months of tentative, cryptic headlines, whispers across the blogosphere and hopeful speculation among the city’s disillusioned voters, the uncertainty surrounding the District’s 2010 mayoral race has reached its final denouement: Vincent Gray will indeed run against Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary on Sept. 14, which, given the District’s stalwart record as a blue constituency, is likely to be the only race anyone pays attention to.
Gray made his “announcement,” of sorts, when he stopped by the Reeves Municipal Center March 30 to submit the candidacy forms for his campaign. Word had leaked out hours beforehand, and what normally would have been a dull administrative task morphed into an impromptu rally for the city council’s sitting chairman. With an electrified crowd milling inside, Gray slipped onto the scene conspicuously, irresistibly late, allowing time for a small mob of journalists, well-wishers, old supporters and disgruntled Fentyites to gather, cordoned off by police, and teased by Gray staffers clad in trench coats and armed with coy answers to questions about the upcoming campaign.
The affable but often stiff Gray, known as a catalyzing force on the council, has long criticized the Fenty administration, particularly on its education policy. The enmity reached a head last fall when Gray and other councilmembers skewered public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Fenty appointee, at a hearing designed to scrutinize her laying off of 450 teachers after hiring nearly double that number the preceding summer. At the hearing, a visibly upset Gray catalogued the incident as an attempt by the executive branch to supersede the council in order to push through what was deemed underhanded educational reform. At that time, speculation about his run for mayor was already circulating among commentators. Afterward, it seemed all but a given.
Which made the chairman’s silence about his intentions throughout the winter all the more confusing. When he did step forward, though, no one seemed to mind the months of indecision. Gray, strolling up in a pressed suit and boyish grin, was met with a storm of cheers and shutter clicks, handshakes and kisses. As he weaved his way upstairs to submit his campaign papers, he stopped several times to exchange words with supportive voters, waved to catcallers on a balcony above and spoke noncommittally to the swarm of microphones pressed before him. It was democracy at work again.
Outside, he had only a few words to say, but still took time to pose with a line of supporters holding placards sporting the slogans “One City” and “Vince” — a sign the stodgy council chairman was, perhaps, giving his image a hip makeover. Gray said he was “absolutely delighted” to enter the race.
“I am a native Washingtonian. I am a graduate of the public schools. I absolutely love this city … and we will talk about ways we can do better throughout this campaign,” he said.
With that, he was gone, but a gaggle of constituents stayed behind, chattering excitedly, looking a little stunned at the tumult. Most were there because of grievances against the current administration.
One union worker with the Building Trades Council said Gray was “more reasonable” and “friendly to labor.” A Ward 8 resident was more blunt: “The current mayor is only helping out those who are fortunate. Right now we need to help out everyone.”
Traversing through the crowd, the Fenty bashing continued. It was clear Gray, if he couldn’t yet raise the money, could at least yoke a few extra votes. Karen Perry, who chairs Tenleytown’s ANC 3F, said the city needs “more than a photo-op mayor.” Tom Smith, chairman of Ward 3’s Democratic committee, agreed.
“This election is critically important to the future of the city,” he said. “This city needs new leadership.”