Vincent Gray Talks "Tough Budget," Among Scandals and At-Large Council Race

Here we are, into the first spring of the Vincent Gray Administration’s rule. And where are we?

Mayor Gray just got through delivering his 2012 Budget to the City Council and, no surprise, it’s what he describes as a “tough budget”—one that seems to try to be a balancing act between trying to use spending cuts (big time in the social services arena) and tax increases (an increase for individuals earning over $200,000), along with some other strategies and proposals bound to make somebody unhappy somewhere.

The first DC Council meeting on the budget was held on Wednesday, April 6.

The mayor’s budget delivery came shortly after his State of the District speech, one that predicted trouble ahead in terms of the budget, but lauded the district for its progress on many fronts, and still pursued the mayor’s pursuit of his One City dream.

There’s also an election campaign going on: the race to fill the at large city council seat vacated by the current City Council Chairman Kwame Brown. A number of candidates are vying for that seat in a campaign that now looms as a very important race indeed, maybe more important than originally anticipated.

Oh, yes, we forgot something.

We’re still in the midst of an unresolved political/policy/government/Gray administration scandal, which hangs like a sorry cloud of bad weather in the midst of the first spring of the Gray Administration.

No need to go into much detail here except to note that the feds, the U.S Attorney’s Office, the House oversight committee and the city council are all looking at front-page Washington Post allegations made by Sulaimon Brown, who’s alleged that Brown’s campaign promised him a job and gave him money to continue his attacks on Mayor Fenty at candidate forums throughout Brown’s unsuccessful mayoral run.

Underlying these charges have been the high-profile criticisms of Gray’s hiring practices, which saw close associates and friends (his chief of staff, since fired) among them, filling jobs at over-the-cap salaries, sometimes with their relatives.

Those practices are the subjects of two council hearings headed by Ward Three’s Mary Cheh, the second of which was scheduled for Thursday.

Not much other than the hearings—Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall was fired right before she was scheduled to testify—has come to the surface on the scandal. That’s because nobody’s talking, especially Gray, who did not address the issue in either his State of the District speech or his Budget report.

Yet the scandal lingers, along with the troubled Chairman Brown over ordering up two bling-type vehicles for his official uses. At large candidates have not been shy about calling for a need to reform political and policy practices at the executive and legislative level without necessarily getting too specific. Not only that, but there’s been a noticeable power vacuum growing on the council and in the city’s political leadership. The major voice on the council isn’t Brown, but folks like Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, David Catania and Marion Barry—for better or worse—with Barry trying out his old race-based scare tactics, or as we called it last time out, divide and con.

This situation doesn’t bode well for budget discussions. We know Mayor Gray would like to appear to be above the tumult, investigations and scandal to better focus on the business of government, but he stood a lot better chance to provide forceful leadership on budget matters the day after his inauguration than he does now.

Brown, for one, is at best hedging on the tax raise for the $200,000 plus club, probably on principal but also because he’s going to need some help just to keep his grip on the council as a chairman. Evans has considerable clout on budgetary matters with his history and expertise and his solid standing in the business community, so he can put up a serious challenge to the proposed raise in taxes on parking garage fees. Probably nobody is going to like the dollar jump in connector bus prices, and the Human Services sectors is slated to provide over half of the cuts in agency spending.

Nevertheless, there’s no getting around the budget and its big deficit—it’s a must-do thing which the council and the mayor will have to come to an agreement on, lest the control board returns. But the Mayor’s description of a “tough budget,” in which sacrifices are to be made by everyone, gets tainted by the ongoing scandal and the furor over the hiring practices. While much has been corrected in that arena—cuts in the salaries and firings—the issue itself hasn’t been adequately addressed by the Mayor, who, while inviting investigations, has said precious little about it. This strikes many as a hunker-down attitude, as if the stress of pressing issues will make everything go away.

And there’s Barry, talking about “the spoils of victory” and conspiracies, as if Tammany Hall were alive and well at the Wilson Center.

We forgot to mention that there’s a poll. Specifically, the Clarus Poll, a research and polling center which polled 500 DC residents and came up with this: Mayor Gray’s approval rating is 31% and his disapproval rating is 41%. His lowest ratings are in the arenas of “appointing the right people to city jobs” (17%) and “living up to high standards of ethics” (23%).

Gray might well be thankful for the presence of Chairman Brown, who got an even higher disapproval rating (43%).

Mayor Gray’s response to the poll was strangely optimistic: In a press release, he said, “I view the Clarus Poll as a barometer of public opinion. The results present an opportunity for me to identify areas in which to win back the confidence of District of Columbia residents. I appreciate those who still stand with me and will continue to work hard to earn the favor of those who may have doubts.”

When it comes to the at large council race, the Clarus Poll showed former Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Orange leading with 28%. Trailing far behind are Sekou Biddle, currently filling the vacant seat on the council with 6%, Republican Patrick Mara with 6%, Ward One activist and ANC commissioner Bryan Weaver with 3%, Josh Lopez with 3%, Dorothy Douglas 2%, Tom Brown 1%, and Alan Page with 1%.

As a result, this is the first time that Vincent Orange has led in a poll in his last two tries for office. But don’t be alarmed. Forty Nine Percent of those polled are undecided on the election, which is April 26.

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Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:29:25 -0400

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