Vincent Gray sits down to talk business and jobs

Photo by GW Hatchet

At a blogger meet up that took place mid-morning on Saturday, D.C. City Council Chair and mayoral hopeful Vincent Gray was dressed for a full day of work. In sturdy shoes and his "Gray for Mayor" hat, Gray was to jet off to Ward 4 directly following the sit-down for a day-long door-to-door push involving dozens of volunteers. The theme for the afternoon would be jobs—and that was be the theme, too, for the sit down, just as it will be for his campaign all week, once it releases its economic development paper to the public in just a few days.

As with the last meet up Gray held with city bloggers, the sit-down was well-suited to Gray's deliberative and—to use a word that hs been used over and over to describe the Council Chair—wonkish style. Anyone who has been to a mayoral forum this political season will have heard most of the ideas he shared before—his birth-to-24 education plan, how much the city spends on special education and how he intends to reform it, and the staggering percentage of the city workforce that lives out of state—but with Saturday's meeting, Gray had again created a space for himself where he could amplify his message beyond the 30-second sound bytes he is forced to issue at various heated debates with Mayor Adrian Fenty, and show off his flair for details.

Even so, Gray was not tell-all on every issue. Regarding IMPACT, the evaluation system for DCPS teachers that Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has recently cited in the potential firing of over 200 District teachers, Gray did not say much more about the system than he has already. Without dismissing IMPACT, Gray questioned the amount of deliberation that preceded its implementation, which he said raised questions as to its validity. He pointed out that in one Michigan school district, the rollout process took all of three years, and said if he were elected, he would want "some measure of the effectiveness of IMPACT." Gray also wondered how well it could account for the stress teachers who teach in poor conditions face in schools.

Gray did expand on his promise to bring better leadership to D.C.'s campaign for self-determination, a new-ish talking point that he introduced at Thursday's forum with Councilmember Kwame Brown. The strategy still being in the works at his campaign, the plan is missing a proposal for how the City could finance a stronger campaign for D.C. statehood. But the theme was there.

"We don't invest much of anything at this stage," he said. "As the economy improves, I would like to find a way to invest more [into a lobbying effort for self-determination]." Referencing the news that Congress may consider a bill with language that would strip it of some control of D.C.'s budget, he said, "There's gotta be a strategy that says, 'There's an endgame, but there are milestones along the way' .... Even if we got a vote, what we would have at the end of the day was somebody in Congress who could vote, no senator, still no autonomous control over some of the basic functions that every other state has control of, and we'd still be fighting for that. I think self determination has to be the fight," Gray said, self-determination meaning being able to do "anything any other state is able to do." The logistics of that, he said, would not be easy, but even a discussion about how to navigate the constitutional language that legitimate the District, like creating a federally administered enclave of government buildings, would be helpful in jumpstarting a discussion that isn't taking place now.

Gray also had a moment to discuss the various 2010 Campus Plans that Universities are proposing across the city. For most of those plans, he said, he hears concern over "this sprawling presence of undergraduates" that residents see, "and student housing in the communities, and the parties, and all of the behavior that comes with that."

"So I think that there is a way to get that issue on the table and have people talk about having as much housing on campus [as possible]," he said.

And as for Georgetown, a community which has seen constant community meetings already, and seems to be at an impasse over GU's Campus Plan?

"Well again, I think you have to have a Zoning Commission that says, here's a certain set of principles we operate by, and you guys need to figure out how to conform that," he said, explaining that the Zoning Commission should not be comprised of all developers. "Ultimately, the Zoning Commission, with the members being appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council has the authority to approve these ten year plans, and that's why I support people on the Zoning Commission who are sensitive to how a community develops."