CAPTION-- D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray speaks to a young Ward 7 resident at Sala Thai restaurant on July 18. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

There has been widespread speculation whether D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray will seek re-election to his Ward 7 seat in 2020. Some political observers say he has grown tired of the District’s political games and may want to do some other things in his life.

Otherwise, while a growing number of young Ward 7 residents clamor for his position and influence, some surmise that the veteran councilmember and former mayor has served his time. However, Gray knocked down those summations on July 18 at Sala Thai restaurant and bar, where he announced his intentions to serve four more years as a city politician.

“I am running again because I want to serve the people of Ward 7,” Gray, who first served as the ward’s councilmember from 2005-2007, said. “I want the ward to prosper and I would like for your help in order to do that.”

In making the informal declaration, Gray addressed an audience of primarily young adults that included Ward 7 activists-Eboni-Rose Thompson, Erica Harrell and Chioma Iwuoha, who-acted as co-roundtable moderators. For his part, the councilmember who was queried on a broad range of topics, also requested a moment of silence on the death Sterling Tucker, first chair of the D.C. Council.

When Iwuoha asked about economic development, Gray who also served from 2007 to 2011 as council chair, responded on point.

“We have to bring more economic development to the ward and to neighborhoods east of the [Anacostia] River,” he said. “In Wards 7 and 8, we have about 150,000 people and we have only three full-service grocery stores. There are wards west of here that have six, eight or over 10 grocery stores and we have two in this ward and about to add another one and one in Ward 8 and still that’s not enough.”

Lidl, a German grocer, which will anchor the Skyland Town Center site in Ward 7, had made its official announcement earlier on July 18 with Gray and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in attendance.

After Thompson asked Gray’s view on education, the councilmember stated pointedly that the conversation regarding the ward’s schools needs to change.

“We want people from across the city to come to Ward 7 schools and not for Ward 7 children to go other places,” Gray said, referencing his work on the recently passed budget to get more money for schools in his community.

Afterward, Gray spoke about his signature educational issue: pre-Kindergarten education. When Gray served as the District’s mayor from 2011-2015, he worked to formulate the nation’s first comprehensive pre-Kindergarten education program where three-year-old childdren start school at taxpayers’ expense.

Gray expressed pride in that achievement and spoke disparagingly of 2020 presidential candidates who want to take credit for his efforts.

“John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado who is now running for president, said he started the first pre-K program in the nation when he was mayor of Denver,” he said. “That’s not true and we are calling him out on it.”

Gray spoke about the need for more police officers in Ward 7 to combat crime and for workforce housing for police officers, firefighters and teachers who work in the District.

Harrell questioned Gray about “when will he pass the baton” so that a younger person can represent the ward. Gray responded that he loved being a public servant and wanted to continue doing so, despite the increased number of young challengers posturing in hopes of taking over his post.

While Veda Rasheed, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 7E01, has formed an exploratory committee on whether to seek the Ward 7 council seat, Anthony Lorenzo Green, 7C04 commissioner has already declared Gray’s seat.

“Too many times we have leaders that don’t seem to hear them [Ward 7 residents] when they speak, stand up against injustice or be an advocate for solutions to problems that affect us every day,” Green stated in a post on his Twitter account.

In addition, James Jennings, a political activist in the ward, appears poised to run and Villareal Johnson, a commissioner for 7B05, has been rumored to be interested in as well.

Ambrose Lane Jr., chair of the D.C. Health Alliance Network and a Ward 7 resident, has also been mentioned by political observers as a candidate. There are whispers that former D.C. Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who served on council from 2007-2017, may want a rematch with Gray after losing in 2016.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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