- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2016

Former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray brushed off the recent release of documents related to the yearslong investigation of his 2010 campaign, and instead criticized the rollout of the current administration’s homeless plan Monday after he met with residents at a senior facility in Ward 7, where he is orchestrating a political comeback with a run for the D.C. Council.

Mr. Gray said he hadn’t even read any of the hundreds of documents released Friday connected to the federal probe that exposed a $660,000 “slush fund” of illegal donations and netted convictions of 12 of his associates. The investigation, which cast a shadow over his single term as mayor and helped sink his 2014 re-election bid, ended in December with no charges against him.

“On Dec. 9, 2015, they closed the investigation, and that’s where it ended as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Gray told The Washington Times after talking with residents at the Allen House Senior Apartments on Minnesota Avenue Northeast.

Returning to the campaign trail to regain his former council seat, Mr. Gray engaged in retail politics as he fielded residents’ questions, most of which focused on quality-of-life issues such as sidewalks, stoplights, youth programs and the lack of a roller skating rink in the area. He promised to find the answers, either during his campaign or as their next representative in City Hall.

An internal poll provided by the Gray campaign shows the former mayor with a 29-percentage-point lead over his key rival for the Ward 7 seat on the D.C. Council — his former protege and the incumbent, Yvette Alexander.

The poll of likely Ward 7 voters showed about 52 percent support for Mr. Gray and 23 percent for Ms. Alexander in the June 14 Democratic primary. Two other candidates — Grant Thompson and Delmar Chesley — garnered 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. About 18 percent of voters were undecided.

After meeting with the senior citizens, Mr. Gray told The Times that Mayor Muriel Bowser should have consulted residents before selecting homeless shelter sites in seven of the city’s eight wards to replace the dilapidated facility at D.C. General Hospital. Ms. Bowser defeated Mr. Gray in the 2014 Democratic primary for mayor.

“You’ve got to go in there with ideas, but you also have to hear from residents,” he said, noting his intentions to close the D.C. General shelter during his term as mayor.

A project that affects the community should be done with the community, he said, adding that the backlash ends up worse if residents aren’t consulted from the start.

“You either get it on the front end or the back end,” the 73-year-old politician said. “I’d rather get it on the front end.”

The Bowser administration has encountered steady resistance to the plan, which has been presented to residents as a done deal.

Though Mr. Gray largely dealt with neighborhood issues at his campaign stop, he wasn’t short on bigger ideas.

He supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage for D.C. residents, even though as mayor he vetoed a 2013 bill that would have required the city’s largest retailers to pay no less than $12.50 an hour. Rejecting the bill paved the way for Wal-Mart to build in the District.

“The Large Retailer Accountability Act focused on a small number of people,” Mr. Gray said, defending his decision.

He wouldn’t discuss whether the 2020 due date for raising the minimum wage that Ms. Bowser set for her proposal was the right choice. He said he would have to see details of the legislation.

Those hoping the council doesn’t close the door on private marijuana clubs might find an ally in Mr. Gray, who said lawmakers need to take their time and let the task force look into the issue.

In February, when the council was debating whether to impose a permanent ban on pot clubs, it approved the formation of a task force to study the issue over the next few months. But two weeks ago, lawmakers took up the measure and approved a permanent ban on a first vote. The ban will take effect if the council votes a second time to approve it.

Mr. Gray said the issue comes up often and that three residents mentioned it to him recently. Two of those residents considered a ban on pot clubs as “an abridgment of their rights,” he said.

In the wake of two killings at the Deanwood Metro station in Ward 7, Mr. Gray has called for an increased police presence at stations, especially during off-peak hours when many of the crimes tend to happen. He also hopes to see more coordination between Metro Transit Police and Metropolitan Police and incentives for D.C. officers to remain active on the force even when they reach retirement age.

To help combat crime and foster an activist spirit in Ward 7, Mr. Gray said he is developing a plan called “Leadership 7” that would train residents in their 20s and 30s to become equipped to run for office. He hopes to have details on the program in the coming months.

During his campaign stop, none of the residents asked Mr. Gray about the nearly five-year probe of his administration. They said they are more interested in what he can do for the community.

“I supported him when he was mayor, and I supported him on the council. I still support him,” said Patricia Hale, who lives in the senior housing complex. “People here just want jobs and a decent life.”

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