It’s Not Easy Being Green: Meet Lorraine Green, Vince Gray’s Closest Friend
In the early ’90s, Lorraine Green and Vince Gray would work late into the night at a District government building, eat bad take out, and hash out personnel decisions. Two decades later, they’re doing the exact same thing.
“Not much has changed in that regard. has it?” jokes Gray.
Green is the first person the next mayor says he turns to for advice. But not much ink has been spilled on the Amtrak executive, who has spent her nights and weekends for the last several months working (for free) as chairwoman of Gray’s campaign and transition.
A self-described local politics junkie who watches D.C. Council hearing reruns after work, Green’s got a hefty résumé. She ran the city’s Office of Personnel during the first half of Sharon Pratt’s mayoral administration, before being lured to a similar gig in the Clinton administration. She also served on the 2000 U.S. Census Monitoring Board.
Gray’s former campaign manager Adam Rubinson describes Green as a trusted adviser during the campaign, who made sure those working for Gray “stayed inside their swim lanes.”
Her most important role in Gray’s victory, though, may have been setting up a meeting between Gray and another of her longtime friends, developer Don Peebles. Peebles seemed to want to beat Still Mayor Adrian Fenty out of pure spite and made plenty of noise about entering the race. Green says she didn’t want to see her two friends split the vote, so she got them together to talk about who was going to challenge Fenty, and who was going to sit out. (It’s not hard to tell who won that discussion.)
With a long career in the political sphere, Green’s got some baggage. Congressional Republicans were unhappy she was briefly named Amtrak’s interim inspector general last year, after the old IG was forced to retire, allegedly because he uncovered waste and fraud at the railroad. That appointment led conservative bomb-thrower Michelle Malkin to label Green as Amtrak’s “lapdog” rather than a true watchdog. Green brushes off her GOP critics’ complaints as ill-informed political rhetoric.
Much closer to home, though, there’s been recent grumblings from anonymous Gray supporters who feel that Green is running roughshod over their feelings and ambitions.
The political newsletter D.C. Watch published an anonymous letter Monday morning from a Gray supporter, saying Green has “egregiously” mistreated volunteers for the transition, particularly from the poorer parts of the city. The letter also falsely asserted that Green’s daughter landed a plum six-figure job in the District’s school system shortly after the election.
The same supporter sent the same letter to LL, but with an add-on: The Dr. Seuss song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”—rewritten to attack Green. A sample lyric: “You’re a foul one Lorraine Green/Your attitude toward Gray Supporters is as nasty as a skunk/ Your head is full of mean girl antics/Your fake One City mind is full of very divisive mechanics.”
Histronics, even Seussian ones, are unlikely to deter Gray from continuing to give great weight to Green’s advice. His pick as chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, is a protégé of Green’s who worked with her both in city government and at Amtrak.
Green says she’s happy serving as Amtrak’s vice president of human resources, minority initiatives and labor administration (she once tried to lure Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi to work for the rail company) and has no interest in working for Gray. But she still has a hand in shaping the city’s future. “I think you could say her influence is there, probably in a lot of ways,” says Gray.
LL presumed that as Gray’s closest friend, Green would have a slew of mildly embarrassing anecdotes about the next mayor to share. But LL presumed wrong—miserably wrong. The only dirt Green dished in an hour-long conversation: Gray, a noted movie lover, never returned a DVD copy of Crash she lent him.
Don’t blame LL, though. The reason Green didn’t tell stories about Gray hand-dancing on top of a table with a lampshade on his head, or streaking the GW campus as an undergrad, is because Green doesn’t have those kind of stories.
The core of their friendship is work. They have plenty in common: they were both born and raised in the District, both proud products of D.C. public schools (he Dunbar, she McKinley Tech), and both lost a spouse to cancer. But their real bond is that they regularly log 14-hour days and need only about 5 hours of sleep. Any socialization between the two outside of work is “episodic,” Gray says. “That’s the way it’s always been.”
The pair met 20 years ago, at the beginning of Pratt’s lone term. Green had been brought on board (via then-transition director Vernon Jordan, who would later famously be asked to find a job for a certain intern named Monica Lewinsky) to run the city’s old Office of Personnel and fulfill Pratt’s campaign promise of clearing out middle managers from the city’s payrolls.
Many of those layoffs came from Gray’s department, human services, one of the government’s largest employers. The first time Green met Gray, she says, was when she went to his old office and told him she was going to be cutting his staff. Gray insisted that he personally play a role in the cuts, Green says, but with one catch: He was so busy running the agency during the day that he would have to meet with her at night, after the normal workday was over.
“It’s like, ‘Really? Cause the rest of [the agency heads] are ready to go home at that time,’” Green says she responded.
But she was game, and she would meet with Gray and his team as his office after hours as they tried to sort through the hopelessly backwards personnel filing system (which in some cases consisted of nothing more than index cards) they’d inherited from former Mayor Marion Barry’s administration.
It soon became apparent to Green, she says, that Gray stood “head and shoulders” above the other agency heads for his attention to details, and was a like soul when it came to working methodically and deliberately.
Green says she remembers thinking: “Gee, he’s a lot like me. …I have this way about me too that I’ve got to get it right. I just can’t get it wrong—there’s just too much at stake.”
While they both worked for Pratt, though, Green says she and Gray weren’t really friends. That designation didn’t start until after Gray had left District government to run Washington Covenant House, a nonprofit that serves troubled and homeless youth. (Meanwhile, Green went to work for the federal government as deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. There, too, she was tasked with trimming the public payroll.)
Gray invited Green to join Covenant’s board of directors and it was there, she says, that she began considering Gray a friend. Green says Gray had a special connection with the kids and seemed like a natural fit as the executive director.
But politics beckoned. When Gray told Covenant’s board of directors he was going to challenge former Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous in the 2004 election, Green says, the board did not want to see Gray go. Instead, they offered him a deal: A bigger salary and the board’s permission to work both as the executive director and a councilmember.
“He didn’t even think about it,” Green says of the board’s offer. The whole reason Gray ran, Green says, was he thought Ward 7’s interests were being neglected on the council, and he wanted his home ward to have a full-time representative.
It was then, Green says, that she really came to admire Gray, who turned away both a raise and the potential to supplement his income with the well-paid council gig.
“I’m telling you that I respected him a lot up until then, but it was at that moment when he told the board that that I was overwhelmed. I was like, ‘How many people would do that?’” says Green. “That was a defining moment for me.”
Green may be an unpaid, informal adviser, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to stay on message. Midway through a chat with LL, she brings up criticism of her friend so she can try to do some damage control.
Gray’s been knocked around a bit by a few councilmembers, members of Fenty’s administration, and some other grumblers about the pace of his transition. “Gray’s slow-to-start transition is reigniting fears about his career-long cautious decision-making style and raising concerns that he won’t be fully prepared to take over from incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D) on Jan. 2,” The Washington Post wrote during the last week of November.
Green says she gets very “irritated” when she hears those complaints. “We’ll take our time to get it right, that’s kind of our motto,” Green says, adding: “Since when does being deliberative become a liability? I would say that it’s thoughtful consideration, that’s what I would say.”
Spinning for Gray comes naturally for Green after so many years working with him—and for him. She volunteered for Gray’s first D.C. Council race, and then served as campaign chairwoman when Gray ran for council chairman in 2006. But Green didn’t plan to get involved in a mayoral campaign this year. When Gray told her he was thinking of running for mayor, she advised against it. Her rationale: Fenty had already raised a boatload and Gray seemed happy as council chairman.
“As far as I’m concerned, he was born for that job,” says Green, echoing a concern Gray’s critics voiced during the campaign and foretelling criticism Gray will likely face when his administration hits rough patches (and they all do, dear readers, they all do).
“Now he may prove me wrong and show me that he was born to be mayor… I don’t mind being wrong, at all.”
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Photo by Darrow Montgomery