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Future Mayor Aims for Congress’ Gray Areas

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Mayor-to-be Vince Gray is said to have a close relationship with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and possibly a stronger basis for linking Congress to D.C. issues.

Those who have worked with Gray during his tenure on the council said he has always been Congress-savvy, adept at keeping tabs on what was going on in the Capitol. Claudia McKoin, one of his top aides and the point person for federal affairs, is rarely without a spreadsheet tracking bills in progress, they said.

Gray takes a pragmatic view toward the tricky relationship between Congress and D.C. His first order of business on Capitol Hill is to play defense, he said.

All city laws first go to Congress, where they sit for 30 days before being enacted, and Congress must approve the city’s budget. “Our biggest job is making sure we don’t get riders on our budget reflecting someone else’s social agenda,” he said.

The District’s same-sex marriage law and its expiring school-voucher program are prime targets, particularly if Republicans are in the majority, he noted.

Gray also has a trickier goal: wresting more autonomy from Congress. To that end, Gray said the city must convince Congress of its own competency. “We have to show that we can manage ourselves,” he said.

Gray has other allies on the Hill in addition to Norton, including Members such as Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that approves the city’s budget. The council honored Serrano last month for sponsoring legislation ending Congress’ budget authority over the city. “He came to our meeting and told us that he’s the only Member of Congress who’s looking to give up power,” Gray said.

Gray has also forged a rapport with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform panel.

Norton notes that Gray’s best opportunity to build goodwill among Members might just be the most provincial. Many Members of Congress live in Washington, and when they’re having trouble with trash pickup, for example, they might make a call to the mayor’s office — giving Gray a chance to do a little lobbying alongside his constituent service.

“They know we can take their complaints to the top,” Norton said.

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