- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray envisions a District of Columbia with the best schools in the nation, a place where anyone can earn a living and enjoy the rights of a full U.S. citizen, and a city “that acts as a magnet for the best talent in the world.”

Mr. Gray delivered his vision in his first State of the District address Monday night to a friendly capacity crowd at Eastern High School.

He mentioned only in veiled reference near the tail end of the hourlong speech the scandals that have plagued his young administration.

Although Mr. Gray did not specifically mention allegations of nepotism and cronyism in his hiring practices or claims of cash payouts during the campaign, he said that he respects and honors the public trust, and that it applies to those he hires to work for him.

“If that trust is violated, you can expect swift action,” he said. “I have always required those working with me to behave the same way, and let me assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that will not change.”

For the most part, the speech outlined Mr. Gray’s priorities days before his first budget is to be submitted to the D.C. Council on Friday.

People filled the auditorium and balcony and lined the walls, taking in student performances and a video clip in which D.C. residents repeated the administrations mantra, “One city.”

Last week, Mr. Gray changed the site of the address from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest to the Northeast high school. He said the move was intended to bring the address into the community and make it more accessible to the public.

The mayor began by noting the completion of renovations at Eastern and then discussed other achievement, such as the District’s offer of immediate help to those infected by HIV, how the city has the most “green” building per capita of any U.S. city and the fact that its population has grown to more than 600,000 residents.

“You see what I see?” Mr. Gray said. “We are making progress.”

Yet for all its steps forward, Mr. Gray used recently released census figures showing a steep decline in the city’s black population in the last decade as a transition to talk about how the city’s successes can be a “miracle for some and a mirage for others.”

There are parts of the city where more than half of high school students dont graduate, there is rampant unemployment and many struggle with living below the poverty line, Mr. Gray said.

Crossing the Anacostia River feels like you cross “from one continent to another continent.”

The western part of the city is growing - and the District should be proud of its successes - while parts east of the river are stagnating or shrinking, Mr. Gray said.

“My intention isn’t to pit one section of the city against another, because I don’t believe in that kind of division,” he said, adding that the city needs a road map, a compass, to achieve its goal of one city, secure its fiscal stability and create jobs.

Mr. Gray also pledged to improve graduation rates and cut rampant truancy, a “well-documented and undisputed threat to our children.” He said many juveniles rounded up by the Metropolitan Police Department for repeat offenses were continually absent from school.

He said the city budget cannot be balanced with gimmicks or by dipping into city savings. He noted the city has fewer funds to grant, and he asked that residents step up to volunteer their time and resources.

“When the story of this moment is written,” he said, “let it be said we met the challenges as one city.”

Asked afterward about Mr. Gray’s speech, Southeast resident Lonnie Howerton said he was pleased Mr. Gray addressed issues relevant to people living east of the river.

“I think Ward 8 has been overlooked,” he said.

He said he would have liked the mayor to discuss more about the charges facing his administration, but insisted that Mr. Gray was “innocent until proven guilty.”

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