Vincent Gray's day at the Market: poised candidate meets voters wanting change

September 6, 2010 - 12:18 PM
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Mayoral hopeful Vincent Gray greets voters at Eastern Market Sunday. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Four years ago DC residents elected a "Young Man in a Hurry" to be their mayor. After watching Vincent Gray work the crowd at Eastern Market Sunday, voters' reactions to Adrian Fenty's challenger revealed a desire for someone quite different.

Gray spent two hours at Eastern Market, and in that time he walked approximately one city block. Not that he had somewhere to go. Shaking hands and talking with people enjoying a beautiful day at the sun-splashed market, on the middle day of a long holiday weekend, was precisely what his campaign had in mind.

But it was a striking display. The Vince Gray who ambled past tables brimming with artwork and jewelry, cut flowers and local food items spoke to virtually every person who crossed his path, in many instances because they stopped to speak with him.

Most offered warm greetings, a few stopped to ask about personal or neighborhood concerns, and several referred to him as the city's next mayor, something Mr. Gray did nothing to dissuade.

One person, an African-American woman from Ward 5, said she voted for Fenty in 2006 but now harbors mixed feelings. She made it clear she's still mulling her options, and she pressed Gray, asking "how would you be different?" Gray then engaged in a several-minutes-long treatise on jobs (mentioning the First Source law on city contracts that's been a staple of mayoral debates this year), public safety (more officers in the neighborhood and encouraging high school students to consider careers in law enforcement), and other issues. The woman thanked him and moved on. If the candidate sealed the deal, it wasn't apparent.

In the closing stretch of the campaign Gray is quite visibly the anti-Fenty. He faces the person he's speaking with fully. His eyes engage theirs. His body comes to a full stop and he becomes The Listener. And only after he's taken the measure of the man or woman (or in the case of the Deal Middle School students he countered Friday at Wisconsin and Fessenden Street -- children) does he offer a response.

Sunday at the market, he engaged in a lengthy conversation with a man whose mother feels trapped in her home because drug dealers own the neighborhood.

"They (the drug dealers) are in public housing? Of course we can do something about it," Gray told the man, adding that his approach would be to "have a meeting," "figure out who the relevant people are," and come up with a plan to make the area safer.

"I raised the same issue with Fenty and they never got back to me," the 30-something man said. "I don't do that," Gray replied tartly. "Stephanie -- can you grab this man's information?"

A woman selling jewelry told Gray she knew it was election time because she's been seeing the Mayor in Ward 7. She joked with him about the fence that once surrounded his home ("why'd you take down that nice fence?" she deadpanned, provoking laughs from Gray and the reporters eavesdropping on their conversation).

"Don't get arrogant" she counseled the man who may become mayor. "That would require me to change," Gray replied, adding "I'm the same man who started this journey."

"I hope so," the woman said.

Not all Gray's interactions with the public were lengthy. A former member of the Control Board offered a kiss and said, "I just wanted to say good luck."

"After you win, I hope you come see us," an education activist offered.

"I hope you win," said one shopper. "Good luck!" said another. "That's the next mayor of DC," a man said to his son as they side-stepped the strolling schmooze-fest. "Vince Gray is here, get back here!" a man eating lunch said excitedly into his cell phone.

At this point, Gray has made it from the north end of the market to the middle of the block. Somewhere, Linda Cropp is smiling.

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