Vincent Gray has had more free time on his hands than he’s used to.
Ever since the former D.C. mayor left office in January, Gray has kept a low profile, concentrating on his personal life and fixing up his house in Ward 7’s Hillcrest neighborhood. But now he is beginning to return to a smaller public spotlight, giving advice to those seeking it on politics, leadership and even public school reforms.
“In addition to the substantive work, it’s an opportunity for me to focus on personal things that I’ve put off year after year,” Gray said in an interview. “You don’t get a chance to do things like this when you’re on high speed every day.”
The former D.C. Council member helped to craft the city’s current education system, which includes both charter and traditional public schools. Gray also worked to decrease the city’s unemployment rate and combat wealth polarization in the city, among numerous other policies and initiatives.
Gray, 72, said that he plans to go back to full-time work eventually, but has not thought about whether he will run for office again. Gray is currently under federal investigation for a $668,800 illegal campaign fund that allegedly helped prop up his 2010 mayoral campaign, a fact that hurt his reelection bid.
For now, Gray is continuing to speak at events in the city and is still lobbying toward policy changes that he wants to see, including making D.C. a state with a vote in Congress.
“That would be one of my goals, to create a very strong movement,” Gray said. “To bring a real democracy to the District of Columbia.”
Gray was a guest speaker for a class at Catholic University in March, sharing his experiences and accomplishments as mayor for a course fittingly titled “Washington 101.” The class is meant to educate primarily freshmen about D.C. through a multitude of intellectual perspectives, said Matthew Green, who teaches one of the sections.
Green said he and the other teachers hoped that Gray would have some free time to speak to the class about his experience as a Washington politician were pleased when he agreed to speak. He said Gray’s lecture was particularly helpful to the students because he brought handouts explaining the changes in the city’s budget over the past few years. Green also said that Gray was engaging for a group of students who may not have closely followed city politics.
Green said his 20-student section was impressed to learn from a former mayor, but said he still had to explain to some of them why Gray was so interested in D.C.’s economy and political issues of the city even after he left office.
“Part of my job is to help them understand the context,” Green said. “I helped them understand that this is fresh in his mind and that he wanted to talk about it.”
In the lecture, Gray shared his expertise on D.C.’s economy, listing facts on the District’s bond ratings and touched on early childhood education, a topic his administration worked to improve. Gray served on the committees for economic development and health and human services during his time on the Council from 2005 to 2011.
Gray said during his time as mayor he was proud of bringing down chronic unemployment in Ward 8 to 16 percent, an improvement of 10 points. He wanted to alleviate some of the pessimism associated with these areas by modernizing their high schools and hoped to make the low crime rates present in some parts of the city uniform across all areas of D.C.
“It was also about relationships with communities in which people felt good about the communities in which they live,” Gray said.
Jack Evans, Foggy Bottom’s Council member, said he and Gray have been long-time friends who have talked several times since Gray left office. They worked together on the Council as Evans served as the chair of the Council’s finance committee.
“Vince is a really good, smart guy, always well prepared,” Evans said. “We’ve had very positive relations.”
Gray has also been working on several academic papers outlining topics like leadership, education reform and gentrification in D.C.
Gray said he shared his work on reforming the public education system with David Osborne, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, who is working on a book called “Reinventing America’s Schools.”
Osborne said he had initially met Gray while doing a workshop for Gray’s mayoral staff. He said he wanted to consult Gray on the book because of Gray’s passion for education and charter school reform.
“He doesn’t really think or act like a politician,” Osborne said. “He’s an intelligent guy who cares about helping people.”