"Wonk" Gray Impresses Bloggers

Candidate takes questions at forum

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Thursday, Jul 8, 2010  |  Updated 7:15 AM EDT
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"Wonk" Gray Impresses Bloggers

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Vincent Gray

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Vincent Gray is getting plugged in to D.C.’s blogging community.

The mayoral candidate, who has faced generation gap questions and whispers about his age since he entered the race against the much younger Mayor Adrian Fenty, reached out to some of the District’s most prominent bloggers, sitting down with them Monday at -- where else? -- Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Five big blogs -- Borderstan, DCist, District Curmudgeon, Greater Greater Washington, and We Love DC -- were represented, with Dave Stroup doing duty for both of the last two. Those who have written up the event were generally impressed, saying that Gray offered great -- sometimes excessive -- detail about his agenda and the issues confronting the city.

It was an important turnaround for Gray, who initially irritated the bloggers with a condescending invitation saying he would “expect the same level of decorum and professionalism exhibited by full-time journalists.” Gray quickly apologized, saying, “I couldn’t have more respect the hard work that goes into them and didn’t mean to offend anyone. This is new ground for local campaigns and I obviously erred with my tone.”

There was no animosity on display at the forum itself, and Gray was entirely respectful. GGW/WLDC's Stroup, who says Gray is making an effort to “tap into new media” -- a smart move for a campaign that has significantly less money than Fenty’s -- says his first meeting with the Council chairman left him with the impression of “an experienced politician” who is “also a bit of a policy wonk.” Stroup says the “first impression you get is that he knows what is going on, and that he doesn't always need to fall back on talking points.”

Gray candidly admitted to mistakes, which Stroup says was a pleasant surprise coming from a politician. Stroup was also impressed by Gray’s reluctance to take cheap shots at Fenty, preferring to stick to policy differences. However, Gray again declined to say straight out if he would keep Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and MPD Chief Cathy Lanier on the job -- big questions that a lot of voters would like answered before they vote.

Borderstan -- a blog focused on parts of Northwest that are generally seen as strong Fenty turf -- was also impressed. The blog says Gray “offered detailed policy ideas” and that he “has lots of ideas and plans as well as institutional knowledge from decades of being in and around” District government.

Borderstan, which also uses the word “wonk” to describe Gray, also notes his reluctance to commit on Rhee and Lanier. Regarding the police chief, Gray did say, “I think she’s certainly done some good things. On the whole, I would critique her as doing a positive job.” He was less kind about Rhee, saying, “How do we institutionalize education reform so that it’s not about one person? It can’t be about one person.”

DCist says Gray came off as “deliberate and detail-oriented”, demonstrating “an exacting knowledge of policy details, implications and implementation.” (Though DCist didn’t use the word “wonk”, it may as well have.) Gray vowed to “be more transparent and hold weekly press conferences -- something Fenty has been strongly criticized for.” DCist’s bloggers were also impressed by Gray’s choosing not to directly criticize Fenty.

DCist says that “to supporters of Fenty's hard-charging style of governance, Gray's tendency toward the fine-print is exactly why he shouldn't be elected.”  But while Gray “might not be the steamroller that Fenty is, he doesn't think that being one is a particularly effective way to govern a city. Sure, things get done, he seems to say, but they don't get done very well.”

DCist says Gray seems to perform best in small groups, so the blogger forum suited him well. The question, then, is whether Gray can reach enough voters between now and September 14 to win.

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