Gray and Obama Discuss Voting Rights, Education
||WTOP Radio & Online (DC)
||Wednesday, December 1, 2010
||Mark Segraves contributed to this report
WASHINGTON - D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent Gray discussed bringing jobs to the District and the city's quest for congressional voting rights during a lunchtime meeting with President Obama Wednesday at the White House.
"The first thing that I asked the president was to reinforce his support for voting rights, and he was unequivocal in his support," Gray says.
The meeting was the first time Gray and Obama have met since Gray defeated current Mayor Adrian Fenty in the District's mayoral primary.
The mayor-elect says the meeting went better than he could have hoped for, although the president made no firm commitment regarding voting rights.
Obama has supported D.C. voting rights legislation, but a bill to provide a full-voting member of Congress to the city was pulled before a House vote this year after Republicans insisted the measure include Senate-backed language to weaken the city's strict laws on guns. The city currently has a delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.
It will be more difficult to get the bill passed with more Republicans coming into Congress. Gray says while Obama on Wednesday reiterated his support for the idea, he didn't appear to want to change the license tags on the presidential limo to the city's "Taxation Without Representation" plate.
"I talked to him about the license plates, and we didn't come to a decision on what to do about that. I think that's something that we will discuss further," Gray says.
President Bill Clinton put the tags on the limo, but they were taken off by President George W. Bush. City groups have urged Obama in the past to put them back on, but White House press secretary Robert Gibbs previously dismissed the idea, saying the president was "committed instead to changing the status of the District of Columbia."
Gray says the two men talked about improving public education. He asked Obama for federal funds to help with early childhood education and to improve roads, bridges and sidewalks around the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus in Anacostia, where the Department of Homeland Security is building a new headquarters.
"The president recognizes it, as I do, as a real opportunity to improve the quality of life in Ward 8," Gray says. "We've asked for dollars to support the infrastructure (and) development on the east side of campus."
Gray says the two additionally discussed federal assistance for unemployment in the District. He also met with senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Munoz.
In a statement, the White House says Gray and Obama "had a wide-ranging discussion covering many issues on which they agree."
"The President specifically reiterated to Mayor-elect Gray that he is an unequivocal supporter of D.C. voting rights and that he continues to support the Home Rule Charter which is so important to the citizens of the District," the statement reads. "President Obama and Mayor-elect Gray both committed to building on today's discussion in the months and years to come."
Obama has been criticized in the past for not doing enough for residents of the nation's capital, who overwhelmingly voted for him in the 2008 primary and general elections.
Fenty also has had high-profile lunch meetings with the president in the past. When Obama was still president-elect, the two men lunched at Ben's Chili Bowl, the Washington institution known for its chili half-smokes.
Gray says Wednesday's meeting was the start of communication between the two men.
"He says, 'I want to do more in the city.' He says, 'I want to do more for the city,"' Gray quotes Obama as saying.