New Mayor Puts Tax Increases “Pretty Close to the Table”

Vincent Gray inaugurated as D.C. mayor

By Nikita Stewart, Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:28 AM

Mayor Vincent C. Gray warned District residents to brace for "some very painful choices in the weeks and months ahead" during a 10-minute speech after he was sworn in Sunday before 3,500 people at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Gray (D) said the $440 million deficit he inherits is one of the biggest challenges facing his administration. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty did not propose new taxes, but agreed to some the council proposed. However Gray, who ran as the anti-Fenty, said in a meeting with reporters Sunday that an increase is "pretty close to the table, maybe close to the tabletop."

The city’s fiscal challenges and changing demographics regularly pit issues such as adding bike lanes and dog parks against providing day care, homeless shelters and job training for the needy. Already, Gray has softened a proposal to reduce welfare benefits after protests from low-income residents.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), who was also sworn in Sunday, said he hopes to avoid a major tax increase, even though some of his more liberal colleagues want to raise taxes on the wealthy to help balance the budget.

"Our residents and businesses pay already-high taxes and fees in some areas. We must be wary of the consequences of adding to this burden," Brown said. "Our best intentions must be tempered with the reality of our municipal checkbook."

Gray, a 68-year-old widower, is the first council chairman in District history to be elected mayor. In a city rived with economic, racial and class divisions, Gray’s campaign emphasized a message of unity. He acknowledged such divides in his inaugural address but said, "There is far more that brings us together than there is that drives us apart.

"Whether we get around by car, bus, train, foot or bike, this is one city, our city," Gray said, putting a twist on his "One City" campaign slogan.

Moving forward together

Eric T. Washington, chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, administered the oath of office to Gray, who was sworn in two minutes before noon, the time by which the D.C. charter says a new mayor must take office. Dignitaries at the service included Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).

From the prayers that started the festivities to the walls above the ceremonial dais to the culmination of Gray’s address, the theme was "one city."

In the invocation and benediction, Cardinal Donald Wuerl carried on Gray’s united-city theme by recognizing the District’s divisions. "We are a people who come together out of multiple backgrounds – ethnic, racial and religious, cultural and social – with varying interests, occupations and manners of living," he said. "We ask that you continue to bless our community as we seek always to respect one another."

Former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who has assisted Gray’s transition, said Gray should be unafraid to make difficult and potentially alienating decisions early in his mayoralty. "This is the high point here; you never have more political capital," Williams said. "It’s all downhill from here."

Gray’s campaign has emphasized education, unemployment, crime and fiscal health. Like his predecessors, he said he plans to pursue statehood for the District.

After a long and steady career in social services, including as director of the city’s Department of Human Services in the 1990s, Gray got a late start in politics but ascended quickly. In 2004, he was elected to represent Ward 7 on the D.C. Council, and in 2006, he won the chairman’s seat. He is a native Washingtonian and graduate of Dunbar High School and George Washington University, where the African American Roman Catholic helped integrate the campus’s Greek system by joining a Jewish fraternity. More than a dozen of his fraternity brothers traveled from across the country to watch him be sworn in.

Gray was among the council members who, in recent years, had complained that Fenty dismissed their legislative authority. The tension led to fights over budget priorities, contracting and who got tickets to the Washington Nationals baseball games.

In a reference to what Gray has said will be a new era of collaboration, he modified the motto of the Fenty administration, changing "Moving Forward Faster" to "Move Forward Together."

Brown, 40, was more direct: "Over the last four years, both branches of government seemed to spend too much time talking at each other or not talking at all."

Brown, widely thought to be a future mayoral candidate, has had a close working relationship with Gray. Both live in Southeast Washington’s Hillcrest neighborhood, in Ward 7.

Brown, a former at-large council member, was joined by his wife, Marcia, and their children, Lauren, 9, and Kwame II, 7, when he was administered the oath of office, capping a swift rise for an ambitious politician who grew up in the District and graduated from Wilson High School in Northwest.

The son of a longtime local political consultant, Marshall Brown, Kwame Brown was first elected to the council in 2004. After he was reelected easily in 2008, he ran for chairman against former council member Vincent Orange. Brown won the race by about 15 percentage points.

Brown will convene his first meeting as chairman Tuesday. Although he and Gray are political allies, they are showing differences, which Gray said is healthy.

During Brown’s speech, he shared a parable about a woman who enters heaven, thinking it might be hell because a banquet table has spoons with long handles, making it impossible to feed herself. The lesson was that guests of the banquet had to feed each other. "My fellow citizens, though we face record unemployment, declining resources and increasing need, I have no doubt that our city will be heaven, not hell, if we all commit to take our long-handled spoons to serve and feed each other, rather than starve trying to feed ourselves," Brown said.

Gray urged residents to help him lead. When he was growing up on Sixth Street NE, Gray said, his mother "dutifully" swept the sidewalks and alley outside the family’s one-bedroom apartment. "One day, I asked her, ‘Why do you do that, Mom? Those streets and sidewalks belong to the city,’ " he recalled telling her. "And in so many words, my mom said those streets and sidewalks belong to us, and we have to do our part to keep them clean because this is our neighborhood and our city.

Staff writer Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

Kevin Wrege

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: