It's Just Lunch: Gray's big moment with Prez
November 28, 2010 | by G'town Saucer
Photo by The Georgetown DishMayor-elect Vincent Gray faces his first full test as Mayor Wednesday when he has lunch with President Obama. The invitation is, of course, a boost for Gray, certainly more than the Obama drop-in at Ben’s Chili Bowl with Mayor Adrian Fenty when he was first elected. Why? The Ben’s meal was a photo-op with little time for substantive exchanges. Whereas Obama and Fenty -- post-Civil Rights-era up-and-coming black leaders with educated, career-oriented wives -- would seem to have had a natural affinity -- insiders say the Obama-Fenty relationship subsequently cooled almost as quickly as the french fries.
Did one of them order the vegetarian chili?
The Wednesday meeting, on the other hand, is a formal lunch with the President in the White House with time and an unspoken intention to have a policy-level conversation. The Presidential kitchen can presumably prepare anything. Gray, meanwhile, has to prepare talking points and be ready to deal with the District's one federal official, the often prickly Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
But most importantly, Gray has to know what to ask for – the “Ask,” the one, and only one, real request that the Mayor-elect can make to the President that the Chief Executive could deliver, or at least support. And, perhaps equally important, be a credibility-builder with the new Republican majority in the House.
Here are some possibilities:
First, Gray could ask for more legislative and budget autonomy, more home rule and for statehood. These are what District residents expect, but these requests are throwaways since 1) they have little chance in the House and 2) the President didn’t push them before and is unlikely to do so now. (Gray could also ask for Presidential support for a full vote in the House for Norton. But as The Washington Post said Sunday, this “appears dead” because Republicans will get the Utah House seat from redistricting that it was to get in trade for Norton’s Democrat seat.)
Gray could ask for more money, a time-honored Ask and certainly needed given the dreadful upcoming budget. The House, however, is unlikely to budget more money for the District given the national drive for austerity.
Gray could ask the President to put on the "Taxation Without Representation" D.C. license plate, as WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin keeps demanding. But that's a rather tired symbol, hardly worth the 92% vote Obama garnered in the District in '06, from perhaps the most loyal Democratic jurisdiction in the nation. Honestly, the license plate makes The Georgetown Dish yawn.
That leaves education, an area of great interest to the President and House Republicans. Indeed, according to commentator Deborah Simmons, the Republican leadership, including House Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner along with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, incoming leader of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District, and other relevant leaders are all lining up to renew the District's school voucher program, which uses tax dollars to send a limited number of District children to private schools. This may be House Republicans' "Ask," -- not repeal of the District’s gay marriage, medical marijuana or other left-leaning social laws.
Which brings us to Gray’s dilemma – and test. Does he ask for something that plays to District voters and can’t get (money, statehood) or does he ask for something he can get (the license plate) but is arguably useless? Or does Gray ask for something he might get (support for education) and sweeten it with a promise to not oppose the return of the poorly administrated voucher program – and establish immediate credibility with the new House Republicans but risk upsetting some of his strongest, most important supporters, organized labor, particularly the local and national teachers unions?
Because this meeting between Gray and the President is so important for the incoming administration, send us your ideas and suggestions on what Mayor-elect Gray should ask when he has lunch with the President on Wednesday.