Jonetta Rose Barras: Legacy, or re-election ground-laying

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray recently announced intentions to spend $100 million in fiscal year 2014 on affordable housing. He pledged $15 million for nonprofit organizations and untold amounts of money for employee pay hikes. If Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi revises his revenue projections for 2013, Gray also made clear he intends to snatch those funds.

Such massive spending proposals made prior to an election cycle usually signal an incumbent's intention to seek re-election. Is Gray plotting a second term? Seriously?!

"He's going back to his base," civic activist Terry Lynch told me, adding, Gray is crafting his "stance for re-election."

But the U.S. attorney is still investigating his 2010 mayoral campaign. Several of Gray's lieutenants in that organization -- many of whom were longtime personal friends -- pleaded guilty to various felonies associated with their actions. People familiar with the federal probe said there are others who also could be charged.

So is the mayor delusional?

Tom Lindenfeld, who worked on Anthony A. Williams and Adrian M. Fenty's successful mayoral campaigns, said Gray lacks a muscular political organization: "All of his political associates have moved from his circle. He doesn't have anybody to craft a public outreach campaign."

Gray demurred when asked at a recent press conference if he would run again. "I like my job," he said while acknowledging he had a record on which to stand. His spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, sent me a 14-page document listing what Gray claims are his achievements since taking office in 2011.

Former at-large Councilman William Lightfoot says Gray's re-election calculation may be right and finding a new crew of campaign workers wouldn't be difficult. "He's a sitting mayor with money to give away. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing, much less found guilty. And he's doing an OK job running the city," added Lightfoot.

"Anything is possible," said Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells about whether Gray could win re-election. A potential 2014 mayoral candidate, Wells said Gray's spending proposal wasn't political.

"I thought he was being responsible," continued Wells, noting Gray declined to spend any of the $417 million surplus and was focused instead on possible "new money."

Gray's re-election spending could further bloat the government while inviting more waste and fraud. Consider that $100 million for affordable housing. "It's too much cash to manage," said Lynch. "The government doesn't have the capacity to spend that in one year."

The proposed $15 million for nonprofits is deja vu all over again. As council chairman, Gray led the legislature in approving hundreds of earmarks. The rules for many grants were either waived or ignored. Large sums were misspent, stolen or both.

Gray's money plans certainly hit key constituents: union members, government contractors, low-income residents and social service advocates. "That coalition voted for him the last time," said Lightfoot, predicting it would coalesce behind Gray in 2014 -- if the feds don't get him first.

Even if he is charged with a crime, could Gray still get re-elected? Ask Marion Barry.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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