Less than six months into his mayorality, Democratic Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's favorability has plummeted, according to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll that also shows that Gray has thus far fallen short of his pledge to unify the District as "One City," regardless of race, class or neighborhood.
The poll, released Sunday, also shows that an early point in his four-year term, Gray is in danger of suffering the same fate as the man he defeated in last year's Democratic primary, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. Gray bested Fenty last September, 54 percent to 44 percent, in a race that split the city largely on racial lines.
So how did the District sour on their new mayor after only a few months? And what, if anything, can Gray do to regain the popularity that swept him into office -- and swept out an incumbent who a majority thought was leading the city in the right direction?
"I think the barrage of [negative] stories have clearly taken their toll," said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist who advised the Gray campaign.
The newly-elected mayor began to run into trouble in early March when the District's Office of Campaign Finance and the city's Investigator General launched investigations into allegations that he paid gadfly mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to criticize Fenty during the campaign. Brown alleged that the Gray campaign had paid him to attack Fenty and offered him a $110,000 per year job in a potential Gray administration.
Gray has denied funding Brown's campaign against Fenty and said that his administration fully vetted Brown before offering him a job. But phone records and money-order receipts Brown turned over to the Washington Post
have raised eyebrows throughout the District, leading House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa
, R-Calif., to launch an investigation as well. The Washington Examiner reported Tuesday that a federal grand jury is now hearing testimony in the case
But not all of the recent allegations of corruption in the District have been restricted to Gray's administration. D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown
is currently under investigation for not one, but two "fully-loaded" Lincoln Navigators the city purchased on his behalf, in violation of city regulations. Earlier this month, Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
was sued by D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan
for allegedly taking $300,000 from his non-profit organization and using it for personal travel and a luxury vehicle; Nathan also forwarded the evidence his office collected to the Department of Justice.
All of that has led to an erosion of trust: Just 42 percent of Washingtonians believe Gray is honest and trustworthy, according to the poll; last August, 61 percent of registered Democrats before the primary thought those words described Gray, and only 13 percent did not.
"He's got to restore trust in his immediate office," Elleithee said.
Overall, 41 percent of D.C. residents approve of the job Gray is doing, and 40 percent disapprove. But just 27 percent of white residents approve of the job Gray is doing, while 57 percent disapprove. Among black residents, 51 percent approve, and 27 percent disapprove.
Gray's initial approval ratings are lower than previous polls have recorded early in the terms of past District mayors: 72 percent of residents approved of Fenty in the first Washington Post
poll of his term, and Anthony Williams
(77 percent), Sharon Pratt Kelly
(54 percent) and Marion Barry
(50 percent) also enjoyed higher approval ratings at the outset of their times in office.
Elleithee stressed that the negative press coverage of the Sulaimon Brown scandal is not the only factor driving the downturn in Gray's poll numbers.
"Like any other executive, there is an anxiety about the state of the economy in the District," said Elleithee.
, a former adviser to Mayors Fenty and Williams, believes that Gray would be well-served to find an issue or issues around which to define his mayorality in the same way that Fenty embraced education reform and Williams stressed development within the city.
"I'm not sure what Vince Gray's devotion is yet," said Lindenfeld, adding that the electorate is more likely to stick with an elected official who has a defined agenda to buffer against tough times.
Elleithee also offered some advice on how to counteract the gap between how white and black District residents view Gray and his administration.
"My argument would be: Focus on the jobs," he said. "If you can help bridge the economic divide, then you can bridge the overall divide."