D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Tuesday night that the District has made progress since he took over the mayoral suite last January, though he acknowledged shortcomings in a year in which high-profile scandals and investigations rocked the Wilson Building.
"The District of Columbia is blessed with tremendous progress," Gray said during his State of the District address. "The state of the District is strong and getting stronger."
Still, Gray acknowledged that his 13-month tenure has been rocky at times, especially after his administration was stung soon after his inauguration by charges of cronyism, and word of a federal investigation.
"When I ran for this office, I promised to restore people's faith in District government," Gray said. "While we have taken some positive steps toward this goal ... we fell short through a series of missteps early in my administration. I understand why people were disappointed, and I take full responsibility."
Many of Gray's initial errors were related to Sulaimon Brown, a minor mayoral candidate who later received a high-paying job in Gray's administration. Brown later charged that Gray's campaign had asked him to stay in the mayoral contest and criticize then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. Brown's accusations are now the subject of the federal probe.
Scandals have continued to appear under Gray's watch, though. On Monday, Gray's office said 130 current and former city employees collected unemployment benefits while on D.C.'s payroll.
On Tuesday, though, Gray focused on a record he said is stocked with achievements as he renewed his call for a unified city.
"The fundamental question we face as a city at this moment is whether we will seize our future," Gray said at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
Gray said his plan to develop "One City," borrowing a slogan from his campaign for mayor, will be centered on creating a diversified economy, ensuring District residents are prepared to work in that economy and broad enhancements to quality of life.
Gray said the city is already on course to realize his vision in public finance, but he warned that D.C. must remain vigilant ahead of threatened cuts to federal spending.
A packed sanctuary greeted Gray's address with frequent applause, but it reserved standing ovations for the mayor's arrival and departure and a brief demand for budget autonomy from Congress.
The mayor's address was not without drama. Firefighters, angered by proposals to change the fire department's uniforms and scrap longstanding scheduling policies, protested outside the synagogue.