Share

Mayor Vincent Gray works to seize control of his message

|
Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Vincent Gray

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was frustrated with journalists last summer as they pressed for answers about the investigation into his campaign.

"Why do you focus on that?" Gray barked at reporters in July. "Why don't you focus on things like education? Why don't you focus on things like getting people to work?"

And as Gray, 70, considers whether to seek re-election, he and his team are increasingly turning to forums that allow the mayor's office to control the message and touch residents -- who might also happen to be voters -- directly.

"It's just another way of reaching the people," Gray said. "Throughout my career, no matter where I was working, I've tried to connect directly with people."

In recent months, that outreach has been a blend of traditional strategies like a monthly television interview on NewsChannel 8 and new media tricks like Instagram.

And in late March, he debuted his latest approach: a weekly radio address.

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro acknowledged that the tactics allow the mayor to draw attention to stories that highlight his successes.

"A lot of reporters, especially in this town, are more focused on scandal," Ribeiro said. "The Metropolitan Police Department does its job. Garbage is picked up. Leaves are swept. But those things aren't covered because they're not sensational."

But he denied that Gray was trying to circumvent the city's traditional media outlets.

"It's not a way to get around people. It's just a way to reach more," Ribeiro said. "Not everyone reads the Washington Post, and not everyone listens to WTOP."

Jim Farley, WTOP's vice president of news and programming, said he thought Gray's strategy helped him duck challenging queries from aggressive reporters.

"A three-minute, precanned statement allows him to get out his message unfiltered," Farley said. "If he can avoid the tough questions, it looks like he will."

But Farley denied he was taking umbrage because Gray is delivering weekly addresses on WNEW, another all-news station.

"If he was going to be open to questions on another station, I'd send my reporter to cover their program," said Farley, who worried that Gray's strategies would inhibit government transparency.

But Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who is considering a mayoral bid, said he thought Gray was just trying to stretch his communications strategy.

"It's very smart of the mayor to do that," Evans said. "It's important to use the traditional media, but if you can do the more modern things like the Twitter and tweets and stuff like that, any avenue to get your message out is very helpful."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment