Wednesday, September 9, 2009

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, saying he sees widespread dissatisfaction in the city with Adrian M. Fenty, on Tuesday delivered an unusually blunt critique of the mayor’s leadership style.

Mr. Gray, who is pondering a run against the incumbent next year, also said President Obama should have done more to secure D.C. voting rights after the city overwhelming supported him in last year’s election.

During a wide-ranging interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times, Mr. Gray declined to assess Mr. Fenty’s performance but drew distinctions between his own leadership style and that of the mayor.

“What I hear contrasted a lot is an inclusive, collaborative, collegial style of leadership versus one that some have characterized - I’m not necessarily using this word myself - but some have characterized as almost dictatorial leadership.”

Mr. Gray criticized a lack of communication from the mayor’s office in matters ranging from scheduling meetings to education reform.

“I think there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the city,” Mr. Gray said. “Decisions are not made in a collaborative manner, not in a collegial manner, not in an inclusive manner. And I think it is a style of leadership that bothers a lot of people who live in the District.”

Asked whether he planned to challenge Mr. Fenty in the 2010 Democratic primary, Mr. Gray said he had “made no decision.”

“At the end of the day I know I have to make my own decision, but it will be based on what I think will be best for the city. I say that as a native Washingtonian who deeply cares about this city. And will be just as enthusiastic as I have been in the past about supporting someone who I think could do a great job or be better than myself,” he said.

If he does run, Mr. Gray said, “it would be because I think I would be the best person for the job.”

The chairman, who has not filed for re-election to his council seat, would face an uphill battle against an incumbent who has raised $2.7 million for his campaign, according to campaign finance reports.

Mr. Gray said that in both his 2004 campaign for the council’s Ward 7 seat and his 2006 bid for council chairman he announced his candidacy late in the campaign season.

He said he is approached four or five times a day by people wanting to discuss his possible candidacy - or to ask who else might be interested in running.

Mr. Gray noted that for a candidate who ran on a populist platform, Mr. Fenty has been less than amenable to working with the council.

He pointed to the mayor’s line-item veto of $950,000 that the council directed to the State Board of Education. The council chairman said Mr. Fenty indicated to him that the funding could jeopardize the progress of school reform, which Mr. Fenty and the council took out of the board’s hands in 2007.

With less than a month before the fiscal year begins, the city budget has not been sent to Congress. Mr. Gray said he would work to override the mayor’s veto when the council returns from summer recess this month.

He criticized the mayor for not adhering to a mandate that required an independent evaluation of the progress of school reforms beginning in 2007. Mr. Gray said the council this year selected the National Research Council to perform the long-overdue study after the mayor had proposed the names of two people who, in Mr. Gray’s opinion, were biased in favor of the reforms.

Mr. Gray also cited the growing list of subpoenas that he said have been necessary to compel the mayor’s staff to testify before the council.

He said Mr. Fenty has held meetings with the council in recent months, but that he abandoned a plan to hold regular meetings with the mayor when Mr. Fenty had difficulties finding time in his schedule for the sessions.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Fenty did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Gray’s remarks.

The mayor was not the only official whom Mr. Gray took to task. He said Mr. Obama could have done more to win voting rights for the District.

“He is an incredibly eloquent and brilliant man who has tremendous influence both of because of who he is personally as well as being the president of the United States, and I think his vocal support of the issue could really have helped to move this along more quickly than it has,” Mr. Gray said.

The city has been battling for years to gain full voting rights in Congress. The latest effort was pulled from the House floor after threats that the bill would be amended to include language that would water down the city’s gun laws.

Mr. Gray said he did not think a voting rights bill amended to weaken the city’s gun laws should be passed. He noted that if the voting rights law were challenged in the Supreme Court, the city could have ended up without voting rights and with vastly different gun laws.

Mr. Gray said the White House also has not responded to his letter requesting that Mr. Obama restore license plates to the presidential limousine that bear the logo “taxation without representation.”

In response to a reporter’s questions in June, press secretary Robert Gibbs addressed the license plate issue.

“I think rather than change the logo around the license plate, the president is committed instead to changing the status of the District of Columbia, ” Mr. Gibbs said.

President Clinton had the license plate affixed to the presidential limousine shortly after it became available in 2000. Upon taking office, President Bush had the plate removed.

“It seems incredibly hypocritical to me that we live in a nation that was founded on taxation without representation, that people died to be able to establish the independence of this nation, and yet we won’t afford the same rights to the people of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Gray said.

Earlier in the interview, Mr. Gray said the city has a relatively young history of self-governance, which presents special challenges. Regardless, the city will not lose its desire for representation, he said.

“The resolve will be sustained,” Mr. Gray said, declining to speculate on a timetable for success.

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