D.C. Council Chairman (and likely next mayor) Vincent Gray kicked off his town hall series with a welcoming Ward 5 crowd Tuesday night, with promises to improve education, the economy, policing, and the persistently stark racial divisions in the city.
Those divisions have been given a lot of credit in the results of D.C.'s Democratic primary for mayor, with an overwhelming majority of the District's predominantly black areas voting for Gray. Mostly white areas pulled the lever for outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty. But on Tuesday night's town hall, Gray promised to reach out to everyone.
"The reality is that we do have divisions in this city, don't we?" Gray said to an auditorium full of supporters. "We have geographic divisions, we have economic divisions, and unfortunately, we have racial divisions in this city. And I want to work hard to be able to bring those together."
Gray also admitted that his vision of harmony may not be achieved, but he said that's no reason to stop trying.
Another thing he intends to keep trying at is education reform, but there's still no word on whether he'll do that with schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Gray offered few specifics about how he plans to move ahead with reform, but he suggested his approach may be different from Rhee's and Fenty's.
"Education reform and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. They can be done together," Gray said, promising to work with citizens. That could have been a subtle dig at Fenty and Rhee, who have been accused of excluding the public from education decisions.
Gray did say he wants to focus on vocational training as part of education reform. He also suggested that as a way to create more jobs and help spare the District from more budget cuts, which he said have been increasingly dramatic.
"We have cut so much out of this budget that we're not only down to the bone, but we're down to the bone marrow," said Gray, adding that there's no choice but to keep making difficult decisions.
Tuesday's gathering was the first of eight town halls Gray has scheduled in each ward before the general election in November. He'll likely win with no Republican challengers on the ticket, but he may face a challenge of a different sort during his Thursday town hall in Ward 3, which voted heavily for Fenty.
That town hall is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at St. Columba's Episcopal Church on Albermarle Street, NW.