In an applause-laden message of hope, unity and even courage, Vincent Gray took the oath of office this week to become the sixth mayor—since Home Rule—of the District of Columbia.
But during the 10-minute speech before a beaming crowd of 3,500 well-wishers, who gathered for a slate of inaugural festivities Jan. 2 at the Washington Convention Center, Gray also warned of tough times that lay ahead for residents of the nation’s capital—particularly as they relate to diminishing a $440 million deficit with which he has been left to grapple.
The 68-year-old widower, who lives in Ward 7 and has served the past two years as City Council chairman, said while a major tax increase is imminent because of the state of the city’s finances coupled with its changing demographics, the Council has consistently had to ponder necessities–such as the creation of more jobs—against wants that include additional bike trails.
In mentioning the “painful choices” now faced by his administration, Gray, who was sworn into office by Chief Judge Eric Washington of the D.C. Court of Appeals, referenced the words of President Barack Obama, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, imploring residents to become more responsible helping to bring the city’s spending into perspective.
“Just as President Kennedy urged all Americans to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country . . . now is the time for all District residents to make the sacrifices needed to weather the storm we face,” Gray said. “And to ask not what your city can do for you but what you can do for your city.”
Adhering to the united city theme which prevailed during his campaign, Gray—garbed in a black suit with crisp white shirt and red tie—further said how both Clinton and Obama encouraged citizens to assume more responsibility. “Now is the time for each and every one of us to renew our commitment to ensuring that we live in the world-class city—and state—we know this can be,” Gray said.
The crowd, which included former mayors Adrian Fenty, Anthony Williams and Marion Barry; U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and newly-installed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, responded with numerous rounds of applause to Gray’s message.
Fenty, 40, lost a second bid at the helm after Gray won the September primary. Gray was late entering the race but was quick to work, toward his benefit, the widespread discontentment expressed among Black Washingtonians who overwhelmingly voted Fenty as mayor in 2006 – and who had since come to believe he had turned his back on them. As a result, Gray was able to trounce his predecessor in a campaign largely based on making the city one that belonged to all people, every neighborhood and every quadrant. He fittingly reiterated those same sentiments after being administered the oath.
“And while there are some who chose to focus on the racial or economic differences in the city, make no mistake, there is far more that is bringing us together than there is that’s driving us apart,” Gray said to resounding applause. “Whether we live in Northeast, Northwest, Southeast or Southwest; whether we are Black, White, red, brown or yellow; or whether we get around by car, bus, train , foot or bikes this is one city—our city.”
Also, prior to Gray’s swearing-in, several re-elected Council members took the oath of office. Among them was Kwame Brown, former at-large councilman, who now serves as Council chairman.
Brown – who had to be reminded to cut his message short –said that he had hoped to avoid a tax hike but that the city’s budget shortfall, which could stretch over the next two years, dictated otherwise.
However, “our best intentions must be tempered with the reality of our municipal checkbook,” Brown later told reporters.