Tonight, DC mayoral candidate Vince Gray announced three top priorities for fixing the District's government agencies. The first target -- the Department of Employment Services -- "he's not sure what they do" beyond the summer jobs program. Next up, the position of the Deputy Mayor for Education. Gray says its time for a "more aggressive, more assertive" person in that role, one that coordinates policy between UDC, DCPS, charter schools, and other programs. Last, but not least, Gray stated that he would develop a cohesive economic development strategy that would focus on growth areas such as healthcare, educational services, and green jobs, and make the District a national leader for financial services companies.
Gray avoided providing any hint on who in the current Administration he might keep on if elected mayor. Given his current position as Chairman include oversight over DC government agencies, I asked Gray to name two agency directors or other appointees that he thought were doing a great job and two others that he thought were not quite up to par. Good try, but he's not answering, Gray responded.
Here are additional highlights of the joint forum sponsored by the Convention Center Community Association and Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association.
Gray on Earmarks
- Gray's elimination of earmarks was not solely due to budgetary necessity, but also a matter of policy.
- The DC Council has not followed its own earmark policy, which is supposed to limit them to $250,000 in operating funds per organization per year, up to $1 million for capital projects, and not permit repeat earmarks to an organization.
- He would have competitive grant programs available in several categories, rather than earmarks. Grants could be available for multi-year programs because some issues cannot be addressed in a single year. There would be oversight and accountability.
- Any organization that gets money from the city should have its performance evaluated by a city agency and, if it is not meeting established goals, have a remediation plan.
- Note: Ron Moten of Peacoholics, who participated, expressed frustration that Ward 5 groups friendly with Councilmember Harry Thomas have received DC funds despite elimination of earmarks, declared that he is against earmarks and for competitive grants. More on that in a follow up post.
- My view: Good plan, if it is implemented.
- In his opening remarks, Gray emphasized the need for parity between public schools and charter schools. As mayor, he would make unused or underused public facilities available for charter school and nonprofit use.
- He emphasized his support for universal pre-school. DC will be the first city in the country to guarantee seats for all 3 and 4 year olds in September 2012.
- Gray also pushed his role in creating UDC's community college, which has acquired 3 campuses.
- He will advance a holistic approach -- 0 through 24 education.
- DC has the worst special ed system in the nation. DC spent $166 million last year on special education, including $90 million to transport students to facilities outside of DC.
- My view: I appreciate Gray's focus on the entire system. I'd like the Mayor to respond to why it appears he has a poor relationship with UDC which seems to be moving forward despite him.
- As Mayor, Gray pledged to increase enforcement of the city's higher tax on vacant property by hiring more DCRA staff. These jobs pay for themselves, he said. He did not get into details about the vacant property law, but noted that the Council had finally defined "vacant" v. "blighted."
- My view: Great, but is this an empty campaign promise targeted to address an area of concern for Shaw residents? What was Gray's position on taking away and re-instituting the vacant property tax, and on what it should cover or not cover?
"We have bikes. We have segways. We have walking.... that's been around for decades."
- The purpose of juvenile justice is rehabilitation.
- New Beginnings, the JV detention center, is overcrowded and needs additional beds.
- Did not respond to the concern expressed by judges that they lack authority to sentence juveniles, which the city can let out at will.
- Acknowledged that some violent offenders are let out too soon.
- The city needs to invest more in the community placement system if this is to be an alternative to incarceration.
- Does not support the proposed "civil injunctions" as a means to curb gang violence because they will result in racial profiling and pull in people who are not criminals.
- Would push for more community policing. According to Gray (citing an MPD report), only 300 of 4,000 officers are involved in community policing.
- My view: I heard him provide a stronger view on JV justice's failure at the Ward 3 Democrats forum. It's broken. Community policing is a nice buzz word, but it's not quite tangible.
- Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mike Bernardo (ANC 2F) expressed the communities frustration with the slow pace of economic development on Ninth Street NW. A Shaw resident noted her concern that the owner of a property in Shaw had opted to develop a group house rather than the initially planned condominium due to zoning restrictions.
- Gray proposed more "small area neighborhood plans," such as that developed for Chinatown, as the answer. Since the summer of 2008, Gray noted that the Office of Planning, which falls under his oversight, had developed 15 small area plans that reflect what the community would like to see in their neighborhood.
- My view: I'm not sure how realistic developing such plans would be and, as I expressed in a later question on the Bundy School, plans aren't worth a dime if they are not followed or ignored.
Gray on Bike Lanes and Smart Growth
"I thought they were high when they did [the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes]. They are really ludicrous."
- Gray doesn't bike, but he supports bike riding and encourages it as energy efficient.
- Reserved bike lanes in some areas of the city (i.e. 9th Street NW) back of traffic. In other areas, the lack of bike lanes have the same result. The lanes do not seem well planned. "I'm not sure we have figured out how to do it yet," said Gray.
- Pennsylvania Avenue lanes are particularly dangerous.
- Supports transit-oriented development around metro stations.
- My view: I didn't get the impression that installing more bike lanes would be high on Gray's priority list.
"I'm not suggesting blame on either side."
- Gray acknowledged that the city should enforce the law when drivers block crosswalks, hydrants, or other cars on Sundays.
- He'll work with the community and churches to solve the problem.
- My view: Ironic that Gray makes a stink about how Maryland and Virginia residents don't have to pay DC taxes, but then suggests out-of-state residents who ignore DC law have equally valid concerns with DC residents who have legitimate safety and quality-of-life issues.
- Took issue with the Mayor's reallocating the money from cleaning up the Anacostia, as designated, to regular street cleaning purposes on the purported rationale that refuse blows into the river.
- The Council has redirected the money collected from the tax back to river cleanup.
- My view: Good.
"Get a new Mayor, one that is more collaborative."
- Given his support for community planning as well as his support for offering vacant DC properties to nonprofits, I asked Gray how he would have addressed the Bundy School as Mayor. (The Bundy School, located on the 400 Block of O Street NW) is slated for residential and recreational use in the District's Comprehensive Plan, but was given to Safe Shores, a child welfare agency/nonprofit partnership).
- Gray responded that the city should stick with the plan and there should be no surprises.
- My view: Gray wasn't aware of the situation. I agree that the city should have stuck to the Comprehensive Plan, and engaged the community at an early stage if it was going to go in another direction.