“I don’t think there should be any cuts,” said Allen Burriss, an attendee at Mayor Vincent Gray’s State of District address, March 28 at the newly-renovated Eastern High School. Burriss and other like-minded D.C. residents may have been disappointed when Mayor Gray mentioned the “deep cuts” needed to close the $325 million gap in the budget.

Though Gray was candid about how agencies must work with “less” in order to function, he was optimistic. “This year’s budget cuts will be steep,” he said. “We will emerge from this process like an athlete after a period of intense training: with a government that is leaner, but also one that is stronger.”

Focused on education reform, fiscal stability, job creation and public safety for the nation’s capital, Gray avoided mention of recent cronyism allegations and possible campaign violations. Ray Baker, managing editor of Raybakermedia.com and WHUR host, said his avoidance is plausible. “I think that was wise of him,” Baker said. “That speech wasn’t the time to address messy political issues. That speech was one for policy and how his policy would affect the citizens of Washington, D.C.”

That’s what Gray did; the mayor stuck to his recent achievements and future goals for the city.

In order to avoid layoffs, Gray said he directed nearly $77 million to public education. “I did this because we are at a critical point in the evolution of public education and I am insistent on forward movement,” he said.

With a plan of a “holistic educational continuum from birth-to-age 24,” Gray mentioned his strong support for Pre-K through 12 education and local colleges.

With the confirmation of schools chancellor appointee Kaya Henderson nearing, Derrick McArthur, a registrar for Booker T. Washington Public Charter School and District resident, said he was concerned most about the mayor’s pick for chancellor. “She’s not well-known name and her leverage in terms of leadership skills, I’m just not feeling it,” McArthur said. “I’m concerned that she was appointed and the mayor didn’t do a city-wide search.”

Henderson, the interim chancellor and Gray’s nominee, replaced Michelle Rhee, who resigned in October. Gray said he worked with Henderson while she served as deputy chancellor. “I have seen first-hand that she has the compassion, the drive, the wisdom and the focus on results that we need at this moment in our school’s history. And she understands the value and importance of working collaboratively with our communities,” he said.

Gray mentioned his efforts to secure funding and completion of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Headquarters in Ward 8, one of the most embattled wards as far as job loss. The project is supposed to generate 22,000 construction jobs and the “location or relocation of 14,000 permanent jobs.”

The mayor indicated the city would not dip into savings and that businesses and agencies would see less funding, and he called on more people to volunteer their talents and resources to make up for the city’s financial shortfall. “The government has fewer funds to grant to organizations that provide social services to our neediest. Into this void, I ask the citizens of this city – young and old – to step up and offer whatever you can of your time, talent, and resources,” Gray said.

Baker said Gray took advantage of the hour-long opportunity to provide clarity on his agenda for the city, despite recent mishaps and shake-ups in his administration. “The mayor’s speech was a safe political speech,” Baker said. “With the economy and jobs being the biggest national and local issue, I do think that Mayor Gray did a good job of sticking to the most pressing issues for District residents.”

The mayor said he will submit his first budget to the District of Columbia Council on April 1 and the Council’s FY 2012 hearing begins April 7.

In case you missed the speech, click here to read.

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer