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Just past his administration’s 60-day mark, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray is plagued by toxic headlines suggesting a quid pro quo agreement with a former mayoral candidate and a city official overspending on a luxurious SUV.
But in a Friday interview at his downtown office, Gray remained defiant, saying that despite what critics call a rough start, the capital city can run its own affairs.
The controversies, he said, should give no ammunition to Congressional opponents of his stated goal: D.C. statehood.
“As an argument to say that we should not be permitted to manage ourselves, that is really bogus,” Gray said. “I think I would suggest that somebody look at 13 balanced budgets as corroborated by an auditor. I would suggest that someone look at our bond ratings, which have continued to escalate.”
The comments came before the Washington Post reported this weekend claims by former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that Gray offered him a job and cash payments in exchange for prolonging his candidacy and attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, whom Gray defeated in the Democratic primary last year.
That scandal followed outrage over two fully loaded SUVs leased by D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown that cost city taxpayers nearly $4,000 a month. Brown has since told city officials to take back both Lincoln Navigators and cancel the leases.
But even in calling for an independent investigation into Sulaimon Brown’s allegations, the city’s special relationship with the federal government is inescapable: D.C. Attorney General-designate Irvin Nathan was House general counsel under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) until he stepped down in December.
So it remains that Gray, like every D.C. mayor, must set about trying to work within the confines of that relationship.
“At the end of the day, it isn’t a level playing field,” Gray said of Congress’ authority to steer federal dollars to the District or withhold them altogether. “I perfectly understand that, and at the end of the day, they have the authority to make those decisions and we don’t.”
Nonetheless, in his first two months in office, the 68-year-old, known for his ability to build consensus, has started forging relationships with members of the new House Republican majority while at the same time vehemently calling for autonomy around the city.
The latter task, he said, is his main objective.