- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2011

In their inaugural speeches Sunday, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown used different words to sound similar themes on budget, education and family affairs, but both newly minted officeholders set a new tone for camaraderie that they said had been lacking in City Hall.

Vowing to stabilize the city’s finances, improve schools and help residents gain statehood, Mr. Gray took the oath as the sixth elected mayor of the nation’s capital in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Washington Convention Center. It included Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric Washington.

Mr. Gray, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic, attended a nearly hour-long multifaith ecumenical service beforehand and later pledged to work side by side with Mr. Brown, 40, who was sworn in minutes prior to the new mayor and encouraged residents to engage in a hand-up not handout way of life.

Mr. Gray cruised to victory in the November general election after a bitter and hard-fought Democratic primary against incumbent Adrian M. Fenty, who was perceived in some quarters as being aloof and disconnected from much of black Washington.

On Sunday, the two black native sons warmly embraced during the transition of power as the new mayor grasped the official seal of the city.

During the campaign, Mr. Fenty and Mr. Gray, who was succeeded in his previous post Sunday by Mr. Brown, rarely addressed the racial animosity against Mr. Fenty unless asked by the media, but polls reflected the long-standing discontent of black voters.

A November 2009 Clarus poll and a poll conducted last year by The Washington Post put Mr. Fenty’s approval among blacks at 29 percent while his approval ratings among whites in the two polls were 60 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

While the two liberal Democrats also sparred over spending issues, mayoral appointments and policy decisions, residents saw none of the kind on Sunday.

“I thank Mayor Adrian Fenty for his service to the District — and for his future public service in the years ahead,” Mr. Gray said.

Attendance at the inauguration reflected old and new Washington, with many of the city’s so-called old guard — such as Sterling Tucker, the city’s first post-Home Rule council chairman, and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the first elected congressional delegate — seated among foreign diplomats, residents and elected officials of 21st-century Washington.

Noticeably absent from her reserved seat was former first lady Michelle Fenty, who made an impassioned, tear-filled plea defending her husband’s character in the waning days of the campaign.

All three living former mayors — Anthony A. Williams, Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt — attended the ceremony, as did former city first lady Cora Masters Barry.

Continuing his “One City” campaign theme, Mr. Gray painted a broad-brush picture of familial Washington by stating early on that it is not a mere city, but a place of magnificent intentions for 600,000 residents and people abroad as well.

“Across the world, people hear Washington, D.C., and they conjure images of majesty and history. They think of the home of our president, the seat of our national government and a command center in the global struggle for freedom and democracy,” said Mr. Gray, a widower and grandfather.

“While we take pride in these images and honor the special relationship we share with the federal government, to us — the people of the District of Columbia — this city means something quite different. It’s where we work, raise our families, build communities, practice our faith, teach our children and live our lives.”

Mr. Brown, a married father of two young public-school students, discussed Washington’s quality of life in narrower terms, saying Mr. Gray’s vision to unite as “One City” will lead to improved lives for all residents if parents lead the way for the next generation.

“We must embrace the thought that accountability begins at home and not just with the teachers and principals in our schools,” Mr. Brown said. “We can no longer tolerate the lack of parental involvement and accountability in the lives of their children.”

He also vowed to push education reform forward, saying it “was never a four-year experiment.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Gray and Mr. Brown said getting the city’s fiscal house in order tops their to-do list, but school reform remains job No. 1.

“Parents want options,” said Mr. Gray, citing the 40 percent of students who attend public charter schools.

Mr. Brown, who as chairman has kept education matters in the Committee of the Whole instead of a separate panel, said he will focus on “bolstering middle schools and getting our hands around financing for D.C. Public Schools” to help keep families in the city.

The city’s top two leaders also said education reform is imperative as they wrestle with the twin problems of unemployment and underemployment of adults, and juvenile crime because youths’ academic and job skills are unmatched for a 21st-century work force.

Mr. Brown’s father, Marshall Brown, who served in the Williams administration, said the new tone of collaboration and common list of priorities aired on Sunday aren’t coincidental.

“The budget is where everything springs from,” said the chairman’s father, a political strategist. “Get the budget right, which is job No. 1, and then job creation follows.

“Today sets the tone for what the city needs,” he said.

The chairman himself said the council will be no rubber stamp for Mr. Gray, a longtime friend and neighbor in Southeast Washington.

“Over the last four years, both branches of government seemed to spend too much time talking at each other or not talking at all,” said Mr. Brown, who had served as an at-large council member for four years. “But I must be clear: The council will do its part by continuing robust oversight of government functions under the mayor and independent agencies.

“We will examine the budget closely, and scrub it. And we will work closely with our chief financial officer, relying on his office’s analysis and numbers and, when appropriate, we will challenge them.”

All but one of the eight officials sworn in Sunday is a Democrat, and they all said stakeholders must stand resolute in the push to become the nation’s 51st state despite the incoming 112th Congress, whose leadership will be in Republican hands.

One lawmaker noted that while some nations fall into bloody battles or dictatorship when leadership changes hands, the U.S. capital is disenfranchised but a testament to democracy.

“We bear witness to the miracle of democracy,” council member Mary M. Cheh said in her inaugural remarks. “The transfer of power occurred without rancor.”

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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