For Gray skeptics, there’s a temptation to see the chairman’s determination to respect colleagues and follow procedure as a sign that he’d tolerate the dysfunction of the D.C. government’s bad old days.
While his council office is dominated by fresh faces of the post-Barry era, Gray’s campaign has a few advisers with ties to Barry and Pratt. Those include Vernon Hawkins, a former DHS director serving as a campaign adviser, and Lorraine Green, the campaign chairwoman who served as D.C. Office of Personnel Management director under Pratt and Barry in the 1990s.
On the other hand, Gray also has plenty of campaign intimates who are former advisers to Fenty.
Gray’s own career has featured little by way of scandal. But the sharp focus of the campaign has also raised some low-level questions. He’s been hounded about the now-infamous fence at his Hillcrest home, built in violation of D.C.’s obscure public space regulations. (Gray started modifying the fence this month to be in compliance.) There’s also his alleged meddling in a lottery contract (after the council yanked the gig from a Fenty-associated contractor, it wound up with the son of a woman who used to work with Gray at DHS). Gray has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Then there’s Bruce Bereano, Gray’s old GW frat brother and one of the most powerful lobbyists in Annapolis. Bereano was found guilty of mail fraud related to illegal 1990s Maryland campaign contributions, and was subsequently disbarred in both the Old Line State and the District. “I’ve never understood what that was all about,” Gray says. In 2004, when Gray launched his initial D.C. Council bid, Bereano wrote a fundraising letter on the candidate’s behalf, saying that Gray’s cousin, Maryland Del. James Proctor, Jr., “would be very appreciative of any help or support you can give his cousin Vince.” Gray and Bereano were apparently still close enough that Gray’s daughter cited him by name while speaking to the crowd at Gray’s campaign kickoff in April. Gray wouldn’t say whether Bereano would be assisting his mayoral bid, though a look at D.C. campaign finance records through the June 10 reporting period turns up a $2,000 donation from the "Office of Bruce Bereano" to Gray's mayoral campaign.
Still, those who say Gray would use just-following-process excuses to avoid pole-axing municipal nincompoops need to contend with the most dramatic moment of his tenure as chairman: This winter’s censure of Barry after the former mayor had been found to have abused his earmarking privileges as a councilmember from Ward 8.
The affair was classic Gray. A pol pondering a citywide race has reasons to publicly shun Barry—and some reasons to embrace him, too. But Gray initially didn’t break one way or the other. He farmed the case out to a respected attorney for a full report.
After the damning results were in, Barry appealed to the chairman’s sense of fairness. “I’m sure, Mr. Chairman, you don’t want your legacy to be that you punished Marion Barry on the words of one person,” Barry said during the proceedings. “You don’t want to be known as the person who took Mr. Barry’s due process away from him. You’re too great a person… I know you better than that. I love you. You’re my friend.”
Gray, though, wasn’t having any of it. The censure went through. And he could credibly say it happened because the process demanded it.
Fenty supporters who’ve been spooked by the Gray campaign’s strength like to take solace in history. Four years ago, their candidate was also up against a well-liked, scandal-free grown-up of a candidate supported by much of the local political establishment. And, in the race of process-savvy consensus-builder versus idea-spouting newcomer, Fenty solidly defeated Council Chairman Linda Cropp.
On the other hand, Gray had his own race four years ago. Running for chairman against Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, a darling of D.C.’s good-government crowd, he started out being dismissed as a courtly but doomed Pratt-era retread. By election day, he’d thoroughly outcampaigned Patterson, taking 57 percent of the vote.
But what kind of mayor will be created by the 2010 campaign, with its relentless focus on process and style? Catania, who is steering clear of any mayoral endorsement, worries that Fenty and Gray have avoided the city’s major fiscal and socioeconomic problems. “This ain’t third grade and we aren’t picking a class president,” he laments.
In the worst-case scenario, the political lesson of a Fenty defeat would be that mayors dare not alienate the status quo’s powers-that-be—the councilmembers seeking free baseball tickets, the unionized teachers who fail performance tests, the bureaucrats who demand to be treated like favored children even after years of lousy performance. Better to hide behind process, and be polite to one and all.
If you’re inclined to read the campaign this way, Gray’s endless focus on process leads inevitably to bad government. Sometimes, after all, cities need to be shaken up, and to Gray’s critics, they need leaders who care more about the end product—the outcome—than they do about how you get there. The knock on Fenty is that his administration empowers individual stars like Rhee to evade scrutiny. The danger with Gray’s approach, on the other hand, would be the elevation of process over policy; as long as the right rules and regulations were followed, it wouldn’t matter what the end result was.
But Catania also thinks a Mayor Gray wouldn’t necessarily limit himself to the watchdogging, process role embraced by Chairman Gray. “I see Mayor Fenty as a gas pedal… Our chairman is a brake…. Their personalities fit those roles perfectly,” Catania says. And if their roles change? “I believe Vince can be that accelerator.”