D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, in a nod toward key segments of his political base as he weighs a re-election bid, on Thursday signed into law pay increases for about 23,000 District government employees and a significant expansion of affordable housing programs.
"It delivers on a couple of promises that we made," said Gray, who announced his ambitions during his State of the District speech in February.
The $24 million plan, which the D.C. Council unanimously approved on May 7, also includes money for employment programs and thousands of extra summer school seats.
Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, one of the council's most aggressive advocates for social services, hailed the infusion of nearly $68 million for housing programs.
"This commitment is so substantial and so real," said Graham. "It's going to make a difference."
To fund the pay increases for about three-quarters of the municipal government's employees, some of whom have not received raises in seven years, Gray and lawmakers reserved about $24 million.
"We just thought that it was time to give our workforce a raise," said Gray. "It certainly is a nice way of saying to people, 'We really do appreciate you.' "
Gray, who defeated Adrian Fenty in 2010 with organized labor's backing, has not said whether he will seek a second term. But his decision to press for the salary hikes thrilled the union leaders who would be imperative to a Gray re-election campaign.
"We will continue to support you in any endeavor that you choose to undertake," Stephen White, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told Gray.
But despite the plaudits from White and other labor supporters, Gray denied that his efforts were rooted in electoral politics.
"The reality is that policy and politics are inextricably tied," said Gray. "But the fact of the matter is that this was the right thing to do."
Although thousands of workers will receive salary increases that are retroactive to April, teachers, firefighters and police officers won't be seeing their paychecks rise anytime soon.
Gray said he was anxious to reach an accord with those employees, who remain mired in contract negotiations, but D.C. police union Chairman Kristopher Baumann accused the mayor of grandstanding.
"His statements and everything he has said about this have not been matched by what's gone on at the table," Baumann said Thursday. "What we've seen for a long time is that this administration does not respect its first responders."