Mayoral Candidate Vince Gray invited bloggers for Round 2 of an "exclusive" discussion. In attendance was We Love DC, The Hill is Home, Georgetown Dish, and of course Life in the Village. We pretty much stayed within the core themes of Education, Jobs, and Economic Development with a sprinkle of Statehood. There is no need for me to regurgitate what's on Gray's website. However, I will admit that my recap is slanted toward East of the River (it is what it is) and in no way does it capture the entire conversation.
Chairman Gray provided an overview of his education plan. In Miss V's opinion fixing the education system is important. However, many of the children of Wards 7 and 8 are going home to dysfunction. Most of our children are being raised by a parent (not parents) and/or a grandparent. I asked Gray how do we being to fix our families. Gray so eloquently stated "sometimes education is the symptom and not the problem". His plan would be to put health and human services and mental health workers in the schools. In addition, he would put non-profits that provide services to these families in the schools.
He also mentioned that most of the special education students live in zip codes 20019, 20020, and 20032 (all East of the River). They are in special education for many reason, such as learning disabilities, mental problems, and behavioral issue. He suspects that addressing the dysfunction in some of these kids lives would move some of these kids out of the special education classification.
Gray and his team will be rolling out an economic development plan later this week. Some of the things in the plan are reforming the Department of Employment Services and enforcing the first source agreement where 51% of new hires need to be from DC if a contractor wants to do business with the city. We Love DC pointed out all the roadblocks in place that discourage DC residents from applying for job, such as showing several forms of ID.
Miss V took this time to make a rant on how unfriendly DC is to small business. My small business (www.nspiregreen.com) is my bread and butter. I cannot begin to tell you the hoops and hurdles DC puts its small businesses through. Not to mention the amount of taxes imposed. Chairman Gray pointed out that he introduced the legislation that raised the exemption for personal property taxes that business have to pay from $50k to $225K. As someone who has filed that tax form, I could have jumped across the table and kissed him.
It was noted that DC ranks LAST of all the states in being small business friendly. Gray said what needs to happen is "blow up the system and start over again". I couldn't agree more.
More Economic Development
In Wards 7 and 8 we face two challenges related to economic development. 1) overcoming how the outside world views us and 2) overcoming our own preconceived notions and assumptions. Gray stated that there are two phenomenon happening East of the River: 1) Is this the beginning of the end? and 2) Are we getting second class? When people see change they aren't sure what that change means. He stated that residents need to stay the course and more importantly there needs to be LEADERSHIP on the part of the City to ensure people aren't displaced.
More Specific Ward 7 Questions
One of my blog readers requested a status update on the lease for the DMV to stay at the Penn-Branch Shopping Center. Gray stated that the Mayor hasn't signed it yet. (Me thinks someone is stalling for political reasons... sign it already). Another requested an update on keeping a MPD Sixth District substation in the southern part of the Ward. Gray mentioned MPD was exploring Penn Branch Shopping Center as an option. Given Gray lives further south than me, I can't imagine his administration would leave the southern part of 6D without a substation.
All-in-all, the discussion gave me a better feeling about Gray. I have been undecided for several reasons, but I think it's time to give Gray a second look.