- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray fired his gatekeeper, Gerri Mason Hall, last week and could announce her replacement by week’s end. Before then, he needs to replace his front-door mat, too, which has been soiled by questionable footprints.

For certain, it’s way too early to begin assessing the legacy of Mr. Gray, who has yet to mark his third month in office, but for a chief executive who was handed a far easier job than his predecessors, Mr. Gray is having a tough time.

He misread the tea leaves.

Every elected D.C. mayor from Walter Washington — considered by some whites to be too black and by some blacks not black enough — to the politically pliable Adrian M. Fenty was handed a mandate. Not so for Mr. Gray.

Swept into office as the anti-Fenty candidate, he is being true to form, playing defense on first base. And although he batted better than .500 in high school, most of Mr. Gray’s at-bats as mayor so far are being recorded as errors in judgment — not home runs.

Stakeholders merely want Mr. Gray to buy a few new trains and keep them running.

After all, nothing in the city is broken, as was the case for Sharon Pratt and Tony Williams. So there is nothing for Mr. Gray to fix. There also are no shame-faced monikers like “Chocolate City,” “Murder Capital” and “Barry’s World” to erase. And even though coffers are shallow, the city still has high credit ratings from Wall Street in its attractive portfolio, which is why big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and firms large and small continue to cross the mayor’s threshold.

But the scandals — chief among them cronyism and nepotism, overpaid appointees who have yet to prove themselves, a chief lawmaker who demanded a top-of-the-line SUV, and questions lingering from the mayor’s race that have drawn the wrong attention from Congress and federal investigators — are scandalous, and they are scandalous because they began at the welcome mat of the Executive Office of the Mayor.

Other mayors faced serious challenges, too, but for the most part the problems were stakeholder-driven.

Washington had to usher in home-rule amid high expectations from blacks, who wanted city jobs, and the business community, which still was recovering from the devastating riots of 1968.

Marion Barry, viewed as the black savior, dispatched the high jobless rate by bloating up the bureaucracy, delivering city jobs to blacks and creating the summer-jobs program.

Sharon Pratt’s mandate was to sweep the financial and bureaucratic demons of the three Barry administrations out of the city.

By the time Tony Williams took office in 1999, public safety, schools, indebtedness and the bureaucracy had become manageable.

Riding Mr. Williams’ legacy, Mr. Fenty, had an easy go, as thousands of new residents and businesses had pumped oodles of cash into coffers and savings accounts to follow through on public-private projects, but Mr. Fenty also was a profligate, spending money with lots of winks and nods from the D.C. Council.

During the campaign, then-candidate Gray aggressively attacked Mr. Fenty on all fronts — from appointments and spending practices to legislative and economic development to public-private projects.

Voters were so taken by the relentless criticism that first lady Michelle Fenty was brought to tears following a televised mayoral debate.

Whether Mr. Gray has swept the dirt under the rug remains to be seen, but one thing is certain.

If the mayor doesn’t hire a pit bull as chief of staff, his first directive to the new gatekeeper should be to buy a new welcome mat.

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

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