Gray and Brown get forum to themselves

Thursday’s D.C. Open Government Forum at UDC became more about the contrast between Vincent Gray and Kwame Brown than each candidate's race for office. With incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and council chair candidate Vincent Orange absent, the debate morphed into extended interview with moderators Kathy Patterson, the former Ward 3 Councilmember, and News Channel 8 Bruce Depuyt, giving outgoing Council Chair Gray and At-Large Councilmember Brown, the man most likely to be Gray’s successor, significant space to elaborate past sound bytes. An ideal format for Gray, the no-opponent, no-time-limit forum proved challenging for Brown.

Gray’s wonkish and deliberative style particularly shined, for example, when he was expanding on the 30-second summaries of his birth-to-24 education plan that he'd been racing through at forums all season. Brown, meanwhile, clung to his talking points on the same topic, reminding the audience once again that he was a product of the D.C. schools, with two young children in DCPS schools.

The difference was fairly apparent throughout the night. Asked how he would achieve D.C. voting rights, Gray first recounted the complicated legislative acrobatics that doomed the City's most recent big push for voting rights  before concluding that statehood should be the District’s goal.  

"If a vote is that difficult to get," he said, having recalled how the demands of gun rights activists had squashed the consensus for D.C. voting rights, "I'm going to lay out my chips and go for statehood. [Because if we get the vote], we're still sitting there with no legislative authority, no budget authority, and paying the same federal taxes while being disenfranchised."

Brown’s response to the same question, though, was that the District government should "energize" people—"young folks" at colleges, and  D.C. residents who have served overseas, he said—to protest for voting rights, so Congress's representatives will "see real people at their offices every day."

"We need some crazy things to take place" to secure voting rights, he said.

Gray expanded his position of D.C. rights in his closing statement,  "If we can't say by 2014 that we have increased our self-determination, then we have failed," he said. Statehood, said Gray, was going to be one of his administration's big agendas, if that's what D.C. wants. "If we have to throw our coffee into the Potomac, that's what we'll do."

The D.C. Open Government Coalition members are the DC Bar, the DC Branch of the NAACP, UDC and the David A. Clark School of Law, DC Appleseed, and the ACLU of the National Capital Area.