- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray says he is undeterred by a new poll that gives him a poor approval rating and indicates he would lose theoretical matchups against either of the two mayors who came before him.

Mr. Gray received a 34 percent approval rating in the poll by Clarus Research Group, an improvement of 3 percentage points from a Clarus poll in March. Yet his disapproval rate spiked from 40 percent to 53 percent since March, while 13 percent have no opinion on the mayor.

“It is very mysterious to me,” Mr. Gray said of the disapproval jump, noting his troubles “emanated from things that happened in the early going.”

Mr. Gray faced early stumbling blocks in his first year at the helm. His transition team hired the children of several high-ranking D.C. officials through a “fast-track” application process, and a minor mayoral candidate accused Mr. Gray’s campaign of paying him and promising him a job in exchange for bashing incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on the campaign trail.

The poll shows a sharp racial divide in opinions of the mayor, whose administration works under the mantra of “One City.” Among black voters, Mr. Gray’s approval rating is 48 percent compared to 37 percent disapproval. Among whites, he has only 16 percent approval and 77 percent disapproval, according to the poll.

Mr. Gray said “opinions always matter” and “we take them seriously,” but he is proud of accomplishments such as the fiscal year 2012 budget and sustainability efforts that will stretch into the new year.

“We’re going to keep moving on with what we’ve got going on,” he said.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown fared even worse in the poll, with a 23 percent approval rating, 57 percent disapproval and 20 percent with no opinion. Only 30 percent of respondents approve of the overall council, while 55 percent disapprove.

Mr. Brown said he will work “doubly hard” in the coming year to trumpet the District’s legislative achievements, its surging population and its role as a hot spot for restaurants and entertainment.

“The District is on an upswing, and we just need to communicate it,” he said.

The poll, taken during a three-day span this week from a sample of 500 registered D.C. voters, shows confidence in city leaders is shaky at best, even as the D.C. Council tried to reverse their fortunes with a comprehensive ethics bill designed to stem the trickle of personnel missteps and investigations emanating from city hall.

The U.S. Attorney is investigating whether council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, redirected public funds earmarked for youth sports programs, and the claims against the mayor’s campaign team. Federal prosecutors are also looking into financial irregularities in campaign finance filings from Mr. Brown’s 2008 re-election committee.

Various council members have faced scrutiny over other issues, including the perceived misuse of constituent services funds that are traditionally intended for urgent needs such as funeral and utility expenses.

“I find it disappointing, because impressions were formed early,” said council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, of the latest poll. She investigated the mayor’s personnel practices. “The whole ethics cloud has trailed after everybody, but I think we really have turned a corner and I don’t just mean the passage of the ethics bill. I think it’s a matter of catching up to where we are now.”

Mr. Fenty would defeat Mr. Gray, 48 percent to 33 percent, in a rematch among Democratic voters today, the poll says, even though Mr. Gray handily defeated Mr. Fenty 53 percent to 46 percent in last year’s party primary.

Mr. Fenty’s predecessor, Anthony A. Williams, served as mayor from 1999 to 2007 and would also defeat Mr. Gray, 47 percent to 32 percent, among Democrats, according to the poll. The racial divide is apparent in the hypothetical elections, with Mr. Gray trumping both men among black voters while the opposite would occur among whites, according to Clarus.

The poll offered a few bright spots. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, fared well with a 44 percent approval rating compared to 13 percent who disapprove of him and 43 percent who had no opinion on him. Interestingly, he was the only at-large member to garner a higher approval rating than the percentage of respondents who could not form an opinion.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier continues to be the most popular public figure in local government, garnering 78 percent approval of her job performance and 12 percent disapproval, while D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson enjoyed 51 percent approval against 14 percent disapproval.

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