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“One of the things that I’ve done is everywhere that I go, I talk about this. I’ve talked about it twice today,” he said Friday. “I think I’ve got to get everybody on the same page and get people in the city willing to stand up for what I think is right. I’m going to be a vocal spokesperson for that.”
Gray has done an apt job sharpening the rhetoric. Within a 30-minute interview, he invoked the Revolutionary War, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, and the U.S.-supported toppling of autocratic regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan as inspiration for the District’s own battle for sovereignty.
Unlike Congressional Republicans, who are quick to correct themselves when the word “state” escapes their mouths in reference to the District, Gray is free with his diction.
“We ought to be treated as every other jurisdiction, like every other state is,” he said. “It just seems hypocritical to me, the people who say states and cities ought to have the autonomy. Then give us the opportunity to have the autonomy.”
Gray has the full support of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) in his endeavor. “There is no better stump speaker for working up a crowd than Vince Gray,” she said Friday. “Vince Gray is a master. He can speak extemporaneously and militarily about the District of Columbia.” (Gray’s senior communications manager, Doxie McCoy, was once Norton’s spokeswoman.)
On Monday, Gray reprised these themes at a briefing organized by the activist group DC Vote, and he added a lamentation that more D.C. residents aren’t enraged by their disenfranchisement.
Whipping up excitement for the cause may be more arduous a task than it was over the past few years, when a Democratic majority in Congress got closer than ever to securing the District voting representation. The hopes fizzled when an amendment was attached to the voting rights bill that would have stripped D.C. of the right to regulate gun ownership, deflating the entire effort.
With Republicans in charge of the House, the District’s position is even less tenable. They have already removed Norton’s vote in the Committee of the Whole and attempted to restrict the use of the District’s funds toward abortion and needle-exchange programs by reinstituting social riders on appropriations bills.
“Even if it’s a rider that I support, I think it’s inappropriate because those are decisions that should be made by the people of this city,” Gray said. “It’s obviously going to be difficult because people who have to render those decisions don’t necessarily agree with us.”
But Gray has reached out to his opponents: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the heads of the Appropriations and Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees with jurisdiction over the District.
Gray said he hopes to work with Boehner on their shared pet project of charter schools.
But already a tiff arose when Gray, scheduled to speak on the issue before Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Oversight subcommittee, was not accommodated when he asked to speak early. Gray had to skip the hearing entirely.
Gowdy insisted it was an unintentional slight and said he was impressed with the mayor during their one prior meeting.