During today's candidate "forum" — we never have debates anymore — featuring incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray on WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Fenty brought up one of his favorite topics: the 1990s and how completely terrible they were for the District. A few of his assertions seemed worth checking, so we went off to do some furious LexisNexis searching.
In one statement, Fenty noted that the job leading what was then the District's Office of AIDS Activities was left unfilled for two years while Gray led the District's Department of Human Services under then-Mayor Sharon Pratt. He cited this fact as an example of poor leadership and executive decision-making on Gray's part.
Standard disclaimer when talking about the early 1990s: Everything in District government was screwed up, so it may be unclear to what extent Gray was responsible for the position remaining vacant for so long.
Upon review, it's hard to blame the two-year vacancy on Gray.
According to a June 4, 1991 Washington Post article:
Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon yesterday appointed Caitlin Ryan, a nationally known health care researcher, to head the troubled Office of AIDS Activities.
Gay-rights activists have criticized the six-month-old administration for taking too long to fill the post. ...
The D.C. AIDS office has lacked a permanent manager for two years and has been criticized for not spending millions of city and federal dollars over the last four years, at a time of spreading infection by the HIV virus believed to cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
This appears to be the two-year vacancy that Fenty was talking about, and only six months of those two years occurred under Gray's leadership at human services.
A Post article from Feb. 21, 1991 outlines some of the reasons for the delay. The administration was focused on dealing with a massive budget deficit, and human services wasn't authorized to start recruiting a director until February. Here's a bit from the piece:
Vada Manager, the mayor's press secretary, said the mayor has "only been in office for 30 days" and has "invested a great amount of time in trying to grasp the budget situation and close the deficit."
This doesn't mean Gray did a fantastic job managing the Office of AIDS Activities. Ryan was dismissed in September 1993 after interfering with the awarding of a contract, according to reports in The Washington Times and the Post. The position would remain unfilled after that until January 1994, when Frank Oldham Jr. took the position, only to resign six months later. At the time, Oldham attributed his departure to a family illness, but HIV/AIDS activists said he was frustrated with the District bureaucracy.
Although there certainly was a good deal of chaos in the agency under Gray, the mayor's timeline on the vacancy was off. And attributing the entire two-year vacancy to Gray is unfair. We give Fenty an Only Kind of True.