The weather on Tuesday March 11, 2014, made the trip to hear Mayor Vincent Gray’s State of the District Address feel like a warm and wonderful day. With bright sunshine beaning through the clean and new Metro train, arriving at the Benning Street Metro Station at 6:30 p.m. gave ample time to walk the three blocks to Kelly Miller Elementary School. A capacity crowd was waiting to hear the State of the District speech.
The scene in front of the school clearly showed that a major event was taking place. As television satellite trucks filled the streets, campaign workers passed out literature, as Metropolitan Police officers directed traffic and kept the peace as the large crowds filled the giant auditorium to hear the State of the District speech.
The sign at the entrance to Kelly Miller Middle School read, “The Pride of the City,” and the words were true for the beautiful middle school. The program started promptly at 7 p.m. as the Navy JROTC Color Guard from the Columbia Heights Educational Campus Color Guard presented the flags and stood before the massive audience as District of Columbia residence repeated the Pledge of Allegiance.
After invocation by Bishop Hudson, Gray came to the stage. He did not waste time. He opened his speech by addressing the issue that threatened to overcome the economic and business and finance successes that have made the District of Columbia an example across the nation.
“Federal authorities, who have conducted a wide-ranging investigation into years of campaign and election fraud, brought a man to justice yesterday. That man sought to illegally subvert the election of President Barack Obama. And illegally pumped money into 28 District and federal campaigns and elections over the past decade. Federal investigators are now using this man’s words to suggest that I broke the law. Consider this: I began my career working on behalf of people with developmental disabilities. I then worked in the Department of Human Services. And, I then founded a non-profit to rescue homeless children. In 2004, I was elected to the D.C. Council. The job was a 40 percent pay cut for me, but the opportunity to pursue a new path in public service was more important than any paycheck. In fact, Covenant House offered me the opportunity to work part-time. I said no because, despite a pay cut, I wanted to devote my full-time attention to the people of Ward 7.”
“In 2006, I was elected D.C. Council Chairman. In that job, I eliminated earmarks, reformed the way the Council did business, shepherded education-reform legislation through the Council, and guaranteed that our government continued to take care of our neighbors with the greatest needs. So I ask you, who do you believe? A greedy man attempting to save himself, or me, a public servant who has dedicated his entire career to giving back to our communities? I have spent my entire life in public service, all of it with a clean and unblemished record. Why would I, at the tail end of that, suddenly turn on that life, a life lived openly and honestly?”
Gray said that to some in Washington, he is being cast as another corrupt politician from the other side of town. However he asked his audience to look beyond the preconceived notions, and instead to look at his record both as Mayor and especially as a human being. “I have given all I have to this city and its people, especially those who are less fortunate. I’m not some caricature drawn up by an eager press corps; I’m a person. A person with a history and a track record. A person who has diligently worked to make this city a better place for all its residents, white and black, Asian and Latino, gay and straight, rich and poor, and the haves and have-nots. I say this to all of you now, clearly and unequivocally: I didn't break the law,” he said.
After his opening statement the audience gave him a standing ovation amid shouts of “We believe you,” and “Four More Years,” Gray then thanked Principal Addullah Zaki and the faculty, staff, and students for hosting the event and commented on the student test scores in math and reading that rose into the double digits last year. “Just a few weeks ago at a meeting of mayors from across the country, President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of these results – and I quote – “Mayor Gray and D.C. knocked the ball out of the park.” That’s good news for the District’s children indeed. They knocked it out of the park! And I could not be more proud of them,” Gray said.
However, the focus of the address that made it possible to increase funds for education was the success of Gray’s economic programs. “Shortly after I took office, the District’s unemployment rate peaked above 11 percent. Late last month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the District’s latest unemployment rate is 7.6 percent – an astounding three-and-a-half-point drop and the lowest unemployment rate we've seen in more than five years,” Gray said.
Gray said that from his first day in office he has moved aggressively to create jobs and address unemployment. “Since I took office, nearly 34,000 private-sector jobs have been created here in the District. Through our innovative, award-winning One City ● One Hire program that was honored by Harvard University, we've connected more than 9,100 previously unemployed District residents with jobs at more than 1,100 partner employers,” Gray said.
And we are booming by other measures. After the previous administration spent three-quarters of a billion dollars of our crucial reserve fund – they spent it down by half – I insisted on structurally balanced budgets, where we spent only what we brought in, even when it meant making tough political choices. As a result, we've posted three straight years of budget surpluses and have rebuilt the District’s Fund Balance to the highest level in its history – $1.75 billion.
”And Wall Street has rewarded us with higher bond ratings – meaning we can borrow money more cheaply in order to modernize more schools, recreation centers, playgrounds, libraries, as well as roads and bridges. Those higher bond ratings have continued to boost our reputation as a financially responsible jurisdiction. And our finances are now in such good shape that even during the federal government shutdown, when we were officially barred from spending our own Fiscal Year 2014 funds, we had enough money in a special contingency fund that we didn't have to shut down the District government,” Gray said.
The economic success of the programs created by the Gray Administration can not be refuted. The evidence of the development of Washington can be seen all over the city. The State of the District is strong. However, Gray made it clear that those who argue that he just came into office and rode the success of others is a lie. The 34,000 jobs created by the Gray Administration came from a successful jobs program. The 1.7 billion surplus came from sound financial management.
The State of the District speech listed the economic programs and the business developments that have come into the city over the past four years. Each is a separate article that will be examined in the weeks ahead.
The State of the District is sound under Mayor Vincent Gray.