Vince Gray Takes Charge Election night was just the final step in a long, yes, process

Restoration Hardware: The old guard carried Gray to victory. He still has to run the new D.C.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

There was a moment early Wednesday morning, at about 1:49 a.m., when Loose Lips thought he could read Vincent Gray’s mind. Gray was standing up on stage in a basement ballroom of a swanky downtown hotel, staring out at a sea of adoring fans who had waited hours, then more hours, for the District’s election board to confirm, finally, what everyone pretty much already knew: Gray was going to be mayor.

“Holy crap, I actually won this thing,” is what LL imagines was a rough approximation of Gray’s inner monologue, as he stood smiling before the crowd, looking almost in disbelief, as they roared, waved, and cheered him on before he’d even said a word.

Here was the moment Gray must have imagined many times in the last months, maybe even longer. Here was the payoff for the grueling, seemingly non-stop schedule: going to event after event after event, until they all seemed like one long blur of the same faces saying the same thing and asking the same questions. (Dear Lord, how many times can one city ask a man whether he’ll fire D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee?)

Here was the prize for spending so many hours shaking hand after hand, fielding the demands of the poor, the jobless, the homeless. (“I need a job, I just graduated high school” were the first words out of an 18-year-old mother’s mouth to Gray on Monday afternoon, as he shook hands outside of a Safeway in Southwest. A second later, a man in some evident distress started asking Gray over and over again why he’d been kicked out of his group home.)

Here was the counterbalance to all the disgust he must have felt from the white voters whose body language and demeanors suggested they viewed Gray as little more than a Marion Barry-lite. (“Mr. Gray, you’re blocking up our alley,” were the first words out of one sneering middle-aged woman’s mouth as she rushed passed Gray with her two kids Tuesday afternoon in Ward 3’s Forest Hills neighborhood, when Gray’s rented Lincoln Navigator parked temporarily nearby, its back bumper barely stretching into the empty alley.)

Here it was, the reward, and it was hard not to share the disbelief. Vanished was the man LL had spent almost the whole day with, crisscrossing the city talking to supporters at more than a dozen precincts in all four quadrants of the District. When LL saw Gray again after the 12-hour GOTV sprint, after he’d emerged from seclusion in a fresh suit to address his supporters, he was different. Gone was the candidate, the challenger, the anti-Fenty. This was something new; this was the presumptive mayor-elect, the boss, the man who has to run the city, not ride a wave of seething discontent over the way someone else is doing the job.

Whereas just a few hours before he was standing in front of precincts, occasionally watching people walk past his outstretched hand, he was now in such demand that a phalanx of volunteer bodyguards had to help him inch through the hotel’s crowd, as people were pushing and shoving to get a chance to huge the new mayor-elect. Whereas hours before he’d been just another politician standing on the sidewalk asking for a vote, he was now the object of so much relief, release and joy.

“It was definitely overwhelming,” said Gray’s daughter, Jonice Gray Tucker, who spent Tuesday on the campaign trail with her father. Tucker says the outpouring of emotions she saw was a reflection of how deep the need was for many in the District to feel like their voices were being heard.

That’s a common refrain among the Gray camp, but one LL has a hard time swallowing. This race boiled down to one thing: a referendum on Adrian Fenty. Gray’s job, now that he’s the man, is to move the city past that.

There are probably a thousand different reasons why Gray won this election, but LL can say without fear of contradiction that it’s not because of his voting day efforts, which were geared more toward giving the appearance that Gray hadn’t gotten cocky rather than actually trying to win any last-minute undecideds.

The day began shortly after 7 a.m. in Gray’s home precinct in Ward 7, the Senior Wellness Center off Alabama Avenue SE. Gray, wearing slacks and dress shoes instead of his normal campaign uniform of mom jeans and sneakers, was greeted by a small army of reporters and cameramen who were so close to him while he voted that he joked about the lack of privacy, waiving his ballot in the air.

But when it went to scan his paper ballot into the machine, it didn’t work, and Gray had to leave it in a bin to be counted later. His good mood quickly evaporated when his campaign visited five other polls around Southeast and received reports that similar early morning problems were widespread. Gray grew increasingly exasperated with what he saw as “abject incompetence” on the part of the Board of Elections and Ethics. He had one particularly painful exchange with an elderly precinct captain, who couldn’t answer basic questions like who was in charge and what time a particular polling location had actually opened.

“How many voters have we lost as a result of this incompetence?” Gray said. Gray framed his response as a principled anger against perceived injustices, but LL also sensed a little nervousness that was probably fueled by overblown reports of problems and light voter turnout. (One Gray supporter pulled up in a van and told Gray: “We got scandalous shit going on.”) The Gray camp would later unsuccessfully try and get an emergency court order to hold the polls open an extra two hours. No one—in either campaign—quite knew what to make of turnout numbers from the polling places Tuesday, not after more than 20,000 ballots had been cast in the District’s first experiment with early voting.

A packed schedule awaited, though, and Gray didn’t have time to dwell on problems. He was off in a convoy of rented vans to hit the rest of the city. At Backus Middle School in Ward 5, he was given a hero’s welcome by Harry Thomas Jr. and his supporters. (Thomas cruised to an easy re-election, and later made a triumphant entrance at Gray’s victory party, moving through the hotel with an entourage.) Gray also gave an interview to CNN, one of the various national media outlets that noticed recently that the young, bald dude who hired Rhee might not be presiding over their Washington bureau’s surroundings anymore and sought time with the challenger.

At most precincts, Gray would chat with enthusiastic supporters who were working the polls, and then maybe schmooze with a few voters.

He would pose for pictures, he’d shake hands with children (telling them to look people in the eye when they said hello), he would even gossip like the characters of his favorite show: Sex in the City. He told a group of Ward 3 supporters that he’d seen Michelle Fenty at a precinct in Ward 4 leave in— can you believe it?— a limousine. (LL’s pretty sure it was just a standard-issue Town Car.)

But if the frantic GOTV tour turned into something of a victory lap, the first moments of Gray’s time in the spotlight showed he was already serious about what comes next. By the time he greeted his cheering supporters early Wednesday morning, Gray had ceased trying to play to the “anybody but Fenty” crowd, and had started trying to chip away at the suspicion much of the incumbent’s base may have of him. Despite being in a ballroom filled with people who were half-drunk on booze and totally wasted on Fenty hate (supporters waved posters of the mayor with a one word caption—“BYE!”—and gleefully sang “Hit the Road Jack” right before Gray spoke), Gray was gracious toward his rival, and talked earnestly of trying to heal the city’s racial divide.

“Frankly, in my heart, I believe in one city,” Gray said, referencing his campaign theme.

Bridging the city’s racial divide will probably be a tall order for Gray. Polls and precincts show that Gray clearly has the support of black D.C., but little love in the white parts of the city. The weekend before the election, his supporters were casting his him as the worthy successor of black civil rights heroes. “I’m going to vote for Martin Luther King, Jr. because I know that if he were alive and able to vote on Tuesday, he’d vote for Vincent Gray,” the Rev. Walter Fauntroy told supporters at a Saturday pep rally. His support at black churches on Sunday was in a similar vein.

On Tuesday night, it was clear that the election didn’t just vanquish four years of Fenty; many of Gray’s most passionate supporters were also shut out of the mayor’s office during eight years of Anthony Williams.

A mayor hasn’t arrived at the Wilson Building with a base east of the river for a long time. (Actually, forget the river; it didn’t take that long for Fenty to lose his own base east of Rock Creek Park.) LL doesn’t share the whispered fretting of some Ward 3 types that Gray will roll the clock back to the 1990s. But watching Marion Barry hold court from a sofa in the hotel lobby, perched next to Cora Masters Barry, besieged by well-wishers, the chasm Gray now faces between the hopes of his supporters and the fears of his opponents seemed enormous.

After all, Fenty racked up margins in white neighborhoods that rivaled the ones Gray put up in Ward 7 and Ward 8. (That’s still not a path to victory in D.C., the incumbent learned a little too late.) Some white voters who visited with Gray on the campaign trail told LL afterwards that Gray came off as kind of a phony, a typical insincere “politician.”

Whether he can overcome that label will probably go a long way in determining how successful he is as mayor.

Get Loose Lips Daily every weekday morning in your inbox—sign up here. Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 244, 24 hours a day.

Our Readers Say

Interestingly, I sent an email to his Ward 2 rep about what he plans to do about the inequalities that develop during gentrification. Never got a response. Thanks Gray.
You white folks are mad at Gray because he will serve all aspects of the city and not leave Black people out the way Uncle Tom Fenty did. You white folks are even much angry because Black people came to the polls to vote when you thought they wouldn't. Share evilness on the City Paper who endorsed Fenty.
Racist.
"He had one particularly painful exchange with an elderly precinct captain, who couldn’t answer basic questions like who was in charge and what time a particular polling location had actually opened."

This is the same level of incompetence that exists in parts (not all) of DC government. This is the type of thing Fenty was trying to address with a hard stance on employee outcomes and behavior. Gray...in order to address this, you're going to have to piss a few people off. Hope you're up to the challenge, because you ran, in part, on the platform that Fenty was cruel to the District Government's employees.
"A mayor hasn’t arrived at the Wilson Building with a base east of the river for a long time."

Evdently, the City Paper's forgotten that it was a group of folk from East of the River who talked Tony Williams into running and were among his strongest supporters. And not more than a few weeks after he took office, the Washington Post, which seems to love to stir up racial divisiveness, was running an op-ed piece on the front page of the Outlook section asking if Tony Williams was "black enough". DC is no Rainbow Coalition paradise, but it doesn't help that the media people seem to feel that focusing on the racial divisions establishes their credibility.
Fact Checker is 100% correct! It was residents of Hillcrest in Ward 7 along with citizens from across Washington DC such as Marie Drissel that convened meetings and "Drafted Anthony A. Williams for Mayor." I have full knowledge about this since I served as Chairman of Dthe raft Anthony Williams for Mayor Committee. I also served as Anthony William's Campaign Chairman for his first campaign in 1998. We do knowa something about how to elect a mayor. Notwithstanding comments in your column, Vince Gray will do an outstanding job as the Mayor for "all" citizens of the District of Columbia!
Vince Gray will make a great Mayor!

I have volunteered for and supported both Mayor's Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty. I live in Ward 2 and had the honor to work with individuals like Paul Savage in the first Williams campaign who is from Ward 7.

The racial and economic divide in this City is real, but I truly believe that Vince Gray can begin to draw us together. To combat racism, sexism and homophobia you have to talk about them. You have to teach children to respect others, they aren't born learning to hate. You have to be williing to sit down with people, even those who don't agree with you and to try to bring them along and you can only do that if you also try to understand where they are coming from. Adrian Fenty just couln't do that. I believe Vince Gray can.

Adrian Fenty will be remembered for doing some good things for the District but he will also be remembered for exascerbating the divide and I don't even think he realized he was doing it. Adrian Fenty is young and I hope that he will continue to stay active in our City and work for the things he is passionate about.

I think in DC we need everyone to link hands and work to make this the best city in the nation to work, live and recreate in. Washington, DC hasn't achieved all the greatness it has in store. I think Vince Gray will help to move us forward together.
Fenty has only himself to blame. The tension and controversy was of his own doing, and almost all of it unnecessary. Baseball tickets, the AG, Moten, Peaceaholics, contracts to buddies, and so forth. Everyone would have put up with the arrogance and disdain of Rhee, but the rest of it showed Fenty's true colors. Time will tell if Gray will be a great Mayor, but I'm betting he will have more of a calming effect on the factions in the city and be more of a facilitator. And Fenty disregarded the poor of the city and gave the city away to the developers. I'm sure it was his version of trickle down economics, but in the meantime, there was a lot of human suffering as he lived the high life along with his frat buddies. I was a supporter at first, but the more I saw, the more I knew he had to go.
I voted for Fenty and I'll do it again and again and again. Come on my black people, what the fu@k is important to you? Your children's education? A safer environment for them to live? Fewer young, black men getting shot dead on our streets? Look at our inner city statistics, blacks head every negative list ever compiled yet we vote out one of the most successful mayors in this cities history. Gray is just another Marion Barry. (please don't get me started on him) Black folks claim they want to be middle class. How can a single, unemployed black female head of household move to middle class status if she continues to have 3,4,5 babies by just as many unemployed men. Have I made you mad enough with the truth? One last thing. Some called Fenty abrasive. I call the black middle class of DC abrasive, for allowing this great city to get in this pitiful condition in the first place. That is all. Now tear me a new ass hole. Peace.
Hairston...You got it right. When I begin to hear that the black middle-class are responsible for this... I said isn't the media giving the unfortunate too much credit. Just because you get your nails done and lease a car does not make you middle class. Just because you can hand-dance and remember when down-town was a true shopping district...does not make you middle-class. Lastly just because you attended Federal City College, lucked up and got yourself a good government job and have vacationed at Walt Disney World does not make your azz middle class.

We have played into the caucasians hands by fighting amongst ourselves. They love-it...this one city idea has just as much hardness as a 67 year-old with viagra.
@Hairston and You know it, I't's egotistical Willie lench stricken negroe's like you two, that can't see the forrest for the mirror, who keep progress from being made cause you try look down on other's to make yourself feel better. Niether of you know anything about VG outside of the rhetoric you either hear or heaven forbid, read, I wouldn't give you the pleasure of tearing you a new azz hole cause you would enjoy it too much. What I will say to you is, the very same black men that you so shamefully try to degrade, need job training so that they can possibly become the upstanding and respectable citizen's that you two claim to be, stop trying to be slick out of your mouth's and wake up, that is what ensure's your safety more than anything else, what happen's when you get tired of playing basketball at the rec center or sitting in the libruary (huh), you and the kids gotta eat don't you. Job's, Job's, Job's
That photo looks like it's straight out of Revenge of the Nerds.
It looks pretty Mayoral if you ask me,or maybe he should pull his pants down a little closer too his knee's with his azz hanging out. (huh)?
Some of you white/black/and other races, who are having a hard time accepting the reality that Vince Gray will be mayor, are making me laugh so hard I can hardly type. Get over yourselves. The black middle class in ward 7 kicked the crap out of your boy AF. Stop all of the race baiting, poor black women with 10 babies and no husband BS. We don't give a rats behind what you think of us! Some of you Gray bashers are not any better off financially than you want to admit. So stop whining.
Vince Gray along with Marion Barry are nothing more than poverty pimps. Marion Barry has not done a thing for his ward or the city in how long? As for Vince Gray, he has been chair of the council for the past four years, approved every measure Adrian Fenty has taken, and yet now we need changed. Ward 8 has had the most development thn any part of the city but the level of ignorance to this facts are unnerving. When you have a mother walking by you with her kids, and says "what the fuck am I suppossed to do with a library.? People dismiss Vince's record of mismanging the city with his tenure at DHS "everyone makes mistakes." Mistakes of that magnitude are the very reason we will be headed back to the days of Sharon Pratt Kelly/Vince Gray/and Marion Barry. I don't give a damn about when people elude to Adrian Fenty being arrogant, DID HE GET THE JOB DONE?
@animal mother: Good. I want a nerd as my mayor, not a slick asshole like Fenty.
"I don't give a damn about when people elude to Adrian Fenty being arrogant, DID HE GET THE JOB DONE?"

Yeah, as fast as humanly possible, no matter how bad an idea it was.

And "Ward8forreal" you should get off your high horse and take the young mother with her children into the library together and look up the meaning of the words "elude" and "allude" -- you'd all be better for it.


@Ward8forreal, and the rest of the idiots that over look the unemployment rates in wards 7&8 (19%)& (30%) as being factors in Tuesday's result's as opposed to the likeability or arrogance of AF. As long as you continue to belittle the citizens of this great city with you autocratic views of how it should be run, you'll come up with egg on your faces because you gage the cities progress on how (white) it becomes,which is a damn shame. I realize that it'll probably take a twelve step program for most of you to become conscience of this though. And don't think for one second that folk's don't know what getting the job done means to fool's like you, guess what though, we aren't going anywhere.
I think Fenty has done a good job revitalizing the city to look and feel like the nation's capital. It's sad to see him replaced because of the uncertainty of the standards of the new leader. But it is what it is, we can't change the count in the primary. We thank Fenty for what he has done and look forward to what Gray can offer. It's too early to tell, but we'll see what the man is made out of......
WOW! Where were yall when I needed you! "Fenty giving Contracts to Buddy's." You say that as if Fenty invented it. Marion taught most every councilmember up on that dias the 'game'. The difference between Fenty's buddys and other Councilmembers is Fenty's contracts saw a check mark in the 'done' box. finished. results. Not 'to be continued' or waiting for more funding....

I told Marion if he'd stop telling lies about me, I'd stop telling the truth about him and his fair weather friends - seems we can't stop. At first I thought Gray was bending Marion over by soliciting his endorsement for the uneducated Ward-8 Vote. Then when I heard Robert Bobb was down here on a Detroit school night, I said lawd Slick Marion is greasing Gray while the champaign bottles pop. Donna Take notes from the Master Politician. Shucks, forget the girlfriend contract, let the 'Buddy' contracts commence.

Since noones listening to me, maybe one of you can repeat this: There are too many close friends up there on the dias very close to our new Mayor. Who's watching them? Will there be checks & balances? Seems the press wants access so they'll turn the other cheek. Can't find independent journalists bold enough to question fuzzy government. So demand a contract czar. Demand an accountants' accountant, a budget police. And If I were you DC....I mean since I seem to be that part of DC that won't be a part of Once City, Write Obama and Holder, look out for your fragile President whose being attacked from a whole different monster of right winged extremes. Tell him not to meet with Mayor Gray until Holder clears Marion. Cause whatever Marion's doing might not be illegal, but it is always questionable. And since he's postured himself up all cozied to Mayor Gray and crew, Gray is linked as a since of loyalty for the endorsement. And my President don't need that type of heat right now.

I SAID IT! Ward 8 ain't like me no way ,,,,based on lies told to people who don't read.
As I read the many comments about our MAYOR elect, I could not believe we have so much hatred for a person because he won the election. Give him a chance Vince is a smart man(I didn't say Black man I said man). He is respected by his family just like all of you are respected by yours. He is a product of DCPS like a number of us. We went to school without being paid,our parents worked hard to give us a quality education to prepare us for this world that we live in. There are a number of Native Washingtonians still living in this city and we will be here until the man or lady calls us to rest. I and others like me will continue to have our say about this city. When folk left this city we stayed. Why did they leave? Some didn't want to live next door or in the community with us. Some did't want their children sitting in the same classroom with our children. We love our children just as much and maybe more than they. We taught our children about human respect, how to learn and try to contribute to mankind. We sent our children to schools on the salaries we worked for. All we ask is that all of you give Mayor Elect Vince Gray a chance. Work with him pray with him. This is our city it will be what ALL of us WORK to make it the BEST CITY In THE WORLD. It can happen,so come on let's all get on board!!!! ONE CITY!!!!
As I read the many comments about our MAYOR elect, I could not believe we have so much hatred for a person because he won the election. Give him a chance Vince is a smart man(I didn't say Black man I said man). He is respected by his family just like all of you are respected by yours. He is a product of DCPS like a number of us. We went to school without being paid,our parents worked hard to give us a quality education to prepare us for this world that we live in. There are a number of Native Washingtonians still living in this city and we will be here until the man or lady calls us to rest. I and others like me will continue to have our say about this city. When folk left this city we stayed. Why did they leave? Some didn't want to live next door or in the community with us. Some didn't want their children sitting in the same classroom with our children. We love our children just as much and maybe more than they. We taught our children about human respect, how to learn and try to contribute to mankind. We sent our children to schools on the salaries we worked for. All we ask is that all of you give Mayor Elect Vince Gray a chance. Work with him pray with him. This is our city it will be what ALL of us WORK to make it the BEST CITY In THE WORLD. It can happen,so come on let's all get on board!!!! ONE CITY!!!!

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