- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2010

Clark Ray has worked for Bill Clinton, Al and Tipper Gore, and D.C. Mayors Anthony A. Williams and Adrian M. Fenty. As he goes door to door and runs from forum to forum in the race for an at-large D.C. Council seat, he informs voters of his Democratic pedigree.

But Mr. Clark doesn’t flaunt it and prefers for voters to look at his record and his proposals to improve D.C.’s quality of life because “this isn’t just a city,” he says. “This is the capital of the Free World.”

By the Sept. 14 primary, the former bureaucrat and schoolteacher has to set himself apart from typical D.C. politicians, who rarely step aside voluntarily after two or three terms. A first-time candidate, Mr. Ray has won straw polls and endorsements from prominent Washingtonians, and he is hoping to raise significant funding before heading into the stretch.

Right now, he is wedged between two other well-known Democrats — three-term incumbent Phil Mendelson and “shadow senator” Michael D. Brown, who lobbies for congressional representation.

Between sips of Coke and bites of a BLT at Trio Restaurant in Dupont Circle, this child of the South who loves neck bones and greens discusses his roots, his passion for public service, his accomplishments and his campaign platform.

Mr. Ray is a lieutenant, the kind of leader who gets things done, and he cites investments in human capital and recreation centers among his accomplishments as a D.C. official.

“You have to understand, I couldn’t even buy a toothpick without getting someone to sign off,” he said. “There were no warranties” on mechanical and electrical systems. “There was mold in [some] restrooms. I got employees certified.

“To fix the lights in swimming pools, they would drain the pool,” he said, making it “unavailable to residents.”

In a city like Washington, where conservative politics is a four-letter word, Mr. Ray says his transition from the national to a local scene was practically seamless. “I learned from two of the best, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.”

He shares something else in common with both of those politicians. Like countless Washington power brokers and wannabes, Mr. Ray hails from somewhere else — in his case, an Arkansas county near the Louisiana border, where oil and catfish were king.

“We used to catch all the catfish we could,” he said. “My dad was a pipe fitter, and my mother a substitute teacher. Everything — we either grew it or built it.”

Racial segregation was a fact of life in Union County, Ark., where young Clark graduated from Smackover High School and had to slip across railroad tracks to visit his best friend, who was black.

“My dad was a racist,” Mr. Ray said matter-of-factly. “I had to cross the railroad tracks to visit Tony.”

When the two Southerners ran for the White House in 1992, Mr. Ray jumped into politics, working for the campaign, eventually landing jobs with the Clinton administration and, later, the 2000 Gore campaign.

As a campaign scheduler for Tipper Gore, Mr. Ray knew that collegially getting things done — and done on time — were trademarks of successful appointees. He dovetailed those honed skills as director of neighborhood services for the Williams administration and as parks and recreation chief for the Fenty administration.

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