Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

Gray's mistakes and misunderstandings

September 7, 2010 - 10:05 AM
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Vince Gray made a mistake when he didn't own up to any mistakes.

Last week, Gray participated in a mayoral primary debate on Fox5. In response to a question from moderator Steve Chenevey about what mistakes he had made while serving on the D.C. Council, Gray declared: "I am very proud of the record we have on the council. I have searched myself to see if there's more that I could have done to work with the mayor. I believe we have reached out as effectively as we possibly can."

Incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty retorted: "If I understand the chairman's answer to your question about whether he's made mistakes, he's saying no, he hasn't made mistakes. He certainly did [not] acknowledge any, and to be honest with you, that may be the greatest mistake of all of them."

Later in the debate, when the candidates were given the opportunity to question one another, Fenty again asked the frontrunner what mistakes he had made, specifically citing Gray's decision to cut streetcar funding in the wee hours of the night. Gray, who chairs the council, responded by outlining his support for streetcars. ("I've been to Portland, Oregon, twice.")

Fenty asked again if Gray would answer the question. Chenevey said no.

The Fenty campaign pounced, distributing a list of Gray's "mistakes" to reporters, most focusing on Gray's tenure as the director of human services during the early 1990s. The Gray campaign has pushed back against those attacks.

Still, Gray has six years on the council under his belt, and has cast hundreds of votes as council chair and while representing Ward 7. Does he really not regret any of them?

Before we can even suggest a mistake, Gray admits one.

"I should have said the vote I regretted was the vote I cast for Peter Nickles," he said in an interview Sunday while campaigning in Eastern Market.

In July, Gray called on the mayor to fire Nickles, who serves as attorney general and as an all-purpose adviser to Fenty. Nickles has battled with the Gray-led council on seemingly every issue under the purview of the Wilson Building.

Gray said his vote was meant to serve as a display of good faith by backing someone the mayor clearly wanted in his administration. Gray claims it didn't work, and that the day he voted for Nickles — November 18, 2008 — was the last time he received a cell phone call from the mayor.

(The chairman's reasoning for his "Yes" vote was different at the time. "The question that comes down to me: Is this man qualified to be attorney general?," Gray said. "He is eminently qualified.")

Gray continued to insist his move to ax the streetcar funding wasn't a mistake, blaming it on a staff mix-up. (It feels necessary to note that he also praised his staff immediately after blaming them.)

"There was a misunderstanding," he said. "We fixed it immediately."

The "misunderstanding" touched off some backtracking by Gray, whose office was overwhelmed by e-mails and phone calls after the blog Greater Greater Washington alerted its readers.

Gray might not regret his actions regarding the streetcar program and remain steadfast in his belief that more planning needs to be done before development progresses too far. But considering the rapid nature of the funding's restoration, it's hard to see how it wasn't a mistake, at least politically.

There's one mistake he admits, and one he might have made. By his own admission, Gray's failure to acknowledge his failures was Total Malarkey.

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