DC Mayor Vince Gray received the first standing ovation of his campaign kickoff speech by talking about his least favorite subject: the past.
“I know that the 2010 campaign caused many people great pain,” Gray, 71, said in reference to the ongoing federal investigation into his first mayoral run amid allegations that it was aided by a $653,000 shadow campaign. To date, four officials from Gray’s 2010 campaign have pleaded guilty to their involvement in the scheme.
“Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused,” Gray continued. “I ask for your forgiveness.”
After the genuflecting, Gray, addressing a packed theater at THEARC, a community and arts center in Southeast, switched to his record since taking office in January 2011. The mayor hit on a declining unemployment rate (from 11.2 percent to 8.6 percent), improved school test scores, and the growth of the private sector.
Gray, working slowly through his speech, also addressed the city’s rising cost-of-living, which has been a talking point for several of his opponents in the nine-way Democratic primary. “Everyone feels it,” he said. “And for our residents with the fewest resources, sometimes what they feel is fear.”
Though Gray led off with a mea culpa, it wasn’t without teeth, in this instance directed largely toward the journalists who cover him. “I know that some journalists and our opponents want you to focus on the past,” he said. “I know that some reporters prefer a circus to a thoughtful discussion of issues. I know that they care about ratings and selling newspapers.”
Perhaps, then, it was not surprising that Gray did not make himself available to reporters following his speech. He spent 15 minutes shaking voters’ hands while exiting THEARC, leaving the media availability to his campaign manager, Chuck Thies. But contrary to Gray’s speech, Thies’s question-and-answer session was circus-like.
Thies bickered with a gaggle of reporters who complained that Gray has been largely unavailable as a candidate, giving just one in-depth interview this week with WUSA, and has only participated in one debate with the other candidates. Thies said that Gray was plenty available, at least in the context of his mayoral duties.
“If you don’t think the mayor is available, you’re not reading his schedule,” Thies said.