For D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, the decades-long struggle to improve the lives of the city's most vulnerable residents -- including the mentally ill, foster children and special education students -- is personal.
And now, one by one, the lawsuits that alleged the District had failed to care for its own people are slowly going away as federal courts free the District from judicial supervision after determining the city can protect its residents.
"It means a lot to be able to see us create a just environment for people with disabilities," Gray, whose professional career began at the Association of Retarded Citizens, told The Washington Examiner. "People with disabilities are those who are otherwise at the margins of life. Their value is increasing, and it's being reflected in the quality of services that we're providing them."
Gray's comments came one day after a judge approved a plan to allow the District to manage busing for its special education students, even though an independent expert cautioned earlier this year that the city's ability to do so was "fragile." The decision was the third instance since Gray took office in 2011 that the District had escaped the oversight imposed because of the lawsuits.
But Gray does more than name the cases and recite a talking point or two. He tells their stories, interspersing wonky details of public policy along the way.
"I understand these cases. I know these cases," he said. "I know what it is that was being looked for in terms of what would improve the quality."
While the lifting of the federal oversight regimes has become a quiet success for Gray -- and one that he hopes will form part of his legacy -- others note that his predecessors made the way easier.
"The mayor does not deserve any more credit than Anthony Williams or Adrian Fenty," said Ward 6 D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells, whose professional career also focused on social services. "The mayor deserves credit, but so do the previous two mayors. ... He has maintained the progress."
Gray said his predecessors were "certainly welcome" to praise for the city's improvements, but he also argues his administration finished the job.
"When we took over, there were deep concerns," Gray said. "I don't think anyone would argue that we were just sitting around and waiting for victory to drop into our hands."
Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, the council's largest-serving member, said he thought Gray merited recognition.
"This is his area, and he's worked very hard on this," Evans said. "I applaud him."
Other lawsuits remain active, though. Although Gray declined to elaborate on the city's plans to wind down the outstanding cases, he said he hopes to conclude another "within a year."