Jaffe: Despite corruption probe, Vince Gray governing D.C. well

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

The Sword of Damocles has been hanging over Mayor Vincent Gray since he took office a year and a half ago. Gray always seems to be in danger of a proverbial loss of his head.

Thanks to ethical missteps by a few of his cronies, who placed their kin in plush city jobs before he even took office, Gray has been cast as a flawed leader. His mayoral campaign turns out to have been corrupt. Three of his close aides have pleaded guilty to federal crimes. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen seems to be closing in on the mayor, himself.

So bleak did Gray's prospects seem in July that three sitting council members called for his resignation. Gray scoffed.

We should rejoice in the mayor's stiff back.

Who knows if and when Machen will come after Gray. What I know is that Gray has done a tolerably good job of governing Washington, D.C.

I would count myself among Gray's chief critics. I accused him of taking the city back to the era of mediocrity and cronyism.

I was wrong. Gray and his government are moving the city forward in many ways, small and large.

Trash is getting picked up. Public school reform is moving apace. The streets still feel unsafe, but Gray is talking about hiring more cops. Cranes are once again actively building and rebuilding swaths of downtown and the neighborhoods. Unemployment is down, and federal judges are cutting loose agencies they have been overseeing for decades.

One reason the government is running so smoothly is that Gray has kept some of the best of the Fenty regime. Six major agencies are in the hands of his predecessor's directors. Fenty chose Police Chief Cathy Lanier. He put Planning Director Harriet Tregoning in place. Ditto Lucinda Babers, head of DMV. School Chancellor Kaya Henderson was Michelle Rhee's deputy and is continuing her reforms. Transportation Department boss Terry Bellamy served as Gabe Klein's deputy.

Fenty hired Allen Lew to rebuild the public schools; Gray kept him on as city administrator.

But Gray has bettered Fenty in crucial ways. He's pushing to hire more cops to bring the force up to 4,000. He's developing stalled projects on city property, including the O Street Market and City Center. He's increased funding to public charter schools and begun to hand over empty public schools. Unemployment was at 11.2 percent when Gray took office. It's down to 8.7, which is still too high. But Gray's focus on jobs is beginning to pay off.

Fenty left the city's reserve fund at $700 million. Gray has built it back up to $1.2 billion.

The District continues to lure between 500 to 1,000 new residents a month. The population stands at 618,000, climbing back up to historic highs of 800,000.

Vince Gray must be doing something right. Maybe it would be best if Machen didn't take Gray down.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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