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Gray's use of schools for forums raises concern

Tim Craig

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has scheduled three neighborhood town hall forums at public schools, even though officials have been stressing all year that political events should not take place on school grounds.

Gray's Ward 2 forum next Thursday is being held at School Without Walls, a high school. Later in the month, Gray will hold his Ward 6 forum at Eastern High School and his Ward 7 event at Sousa Middle School.

Despite beating Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, Gray still has to clear the November general election before he can begin his official transition.

In organizing the forums, Gray campaign advisers have stressed the events are designed to try to woo voters in advance of the November election. At Gray's Ward 5 forum Tuesday night, many of attendees wore "Gray' stickers.

District schools fall under a section of the code stating "no District resource... shall be used to support or oppose any candidate for elected office, whether partisan or nonpartisan."

Earlier in the year, city officials warned principals on at least three occasions that school grounds should be kept free of politics. In one instance, school operations director Evan Smith wrote the "prohibition covers every kind of partisan political activity."

Traci Hughes, a Gray spokeswoman, said the campaign decided to hold the events at some schools because, they say, there is "some wiggle room in the statue."

"DCPS has a discretion to approve these events," Hughes said. Hughes added principals at all three schools signed off on the events, but she conceded top school officials had yet to weigh in on the matter.

"They haven't told us to stand down, but they are scheduled," Hughes said. "We will see what happens."

Neither the principals nor a spokesman for DCPS immediately returned calls for comment.

But Attorney General Peter Nickles said "its common sense" that Gray should not be using schools for political events.

"I don't see how you get around the langauge of the law," Nickles said. "Clearly, if he is having these townhalls at DC schools, which are owned by the District government, then my legal view would be that is covered by this" law.

Terry Lynch, a community activist who supported Fenty during the primary, said he was also troubled by Gray's decision to hold his events at public schools.

"I was surprised to see they were using government buildings for these campaign events," Lynch said. "It would be one thing if the election was over and he was mayor. Does this mean DCPS endorses this campaign? Or are taxpayers helping somehow to fund these events?

--Tim Craig

By Tim Craig  | October 6, 2010; 5:45 PM ET
Categories:  2010 District Election, Vincent C. Gray, vincent gray  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Gray predicts $350-$400 million shortfall
Next: Vincent Gray changing sites for remaining town halls


Are any of the non-DCPS sites for the townhall meetings at November 2 polling sites? If so, it seems inappropriate (legal or not) to campaign at a polling site.

Posted by: jmc39 | October 6, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

But Attorney General Peter Nickles said "its common sense" that Gray should not be using schools for political events.

Please Nickles, pack your bags.

Posted by: guylady201001 | October 6, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Was Mr. Gray on the council when it wrote the code?

Has Mr. Barry done the same?

Are we back there?
Is the Union backing it?

Posted by: pdv1 | October 6, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Nickles and Terry Lynch,

Instead of complaining about our presumptive mayor trying to build an inclusive city by holding town hall meetings, why don't you cry out against almost half of DC's black children living in poverty and our $100 million plus deficit?

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 6, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

I can see where Tim is coming from, however, it is ultimately the schools responsibility to ensure that they are not violating the law.

I think that Gray should seek reach out to his supporters in each ward to put on these events.

Tim Craig is only seeking to silence Gray and make it impossible to for him to communicate with the citizens. Tim Craig knows that in D.C. the winner of the primary is the presumptive Mayor-elect when there is no Republican or Independent contender on the ballot. Tim Craig, as usual, is attempting to polarize the electorate and block citizens from asking questions of Gray. He fears what he has to say will resonate with all residents rendering him irrelevant.

The people deserve to hear the chairman and ask him whatever question they like. Gray should make this happen, and do so within the parameters of the law.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 7, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

It is the dumbest issue. Is an event at a church now violation of the division of church and state?

Is it when held at a corporation now part of the their PAC.


For the purposes of a meeting the place becomes another public space able to rent..and nothing more. IT is open to ANY community group able to pay the fee as long as it does not violate a other statutes.

Peter Nickles go find Obama and every other politician who holds community forums and campaign events on schools.

And Tracy I love you dear but you should not be saying the statute has wiggle room it sounds like you are flauting the law. Check with your attorneys first and you would have discovered in these cases nationally and locally the place is just a public meeting place and is available to all groups equally.

Posted by: CultureClub | October 7, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Tim...why don't you research about this?

The Office of Campaign Finance says allegations of campaign finance violations made against the campaigns of both Mayor Adrian Fenty and Almost Mayor Vincent Gray should be dismissed.

LL first reported that Gray volunteer James Abely filed a complaint with OCF saying that Fenty’s No. 1 supporter, Ron Moten, was breaking campaign finance rules with all of his pro-Fenty go-go concerts, songs, music videos, magazine and website

OCF, according to a filing on its website, is recommending the complaint be dismissed by the Board of Elections and Ethics. According to the filing, Fenty campaign lawyer Marc Elias argued that the campaign had “neither requested nor contributed” to Moten’s videos and magazine and its website, and that Moten’s music videos were similar to the “Obama Girl” YouTube smash hit, which we are all assuming had nothing to do with Obama’s campaign.

Curiously enough, Fenty campaign chairman Bill Lightfoot also said the campaign “did not coordinate any activity with the producers of the videos,” but the Fenty campaign would “include the estimated value of the videos in its October 10″ filing as “an in-kind contribution.” LL is curious to see how much that winds up costing.

The OCF is also recommending that at complaint against the Gray campaign, filed by the D.C. Republican Party, be dismissed. The complaint stemmed two full page ads in the Hill Rag and a handbill for a Gray fundraiser that did not have the required language (like “paid for”) on them. Gray campaign manager Adam Rubinson and lobbyist David Wilmot appeared before the OCF and told them that the ads were paid for by Ward 6 volunteer coordinator Charles Berger without consulting the campaign, and the fundraising handbill “was not cleared through” the Gray campaign, but any money raised from the event would be reported.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | October 7, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Geeze - what's next? Gray sneezed at the wrong time?

Posted by: missboo | October 7, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Posted by Really? September 28th, 2010
10:19 am #2

Once AGAIN this administration is trying to forgo the laws. The case against Moton should not be dismissed he violated the laws and the CITIZENS of the District of Columbia have the RIGHT to know who funded the go-go events, the magazine, and the websites and how they spent the money.

Moton has a record of receiving funding, paying himself a nice salary, and not having to show in a coherent manner how the money was spent. DC Citizens deserve accountability and transparency!

What is a Political Committee?
(DC Official Code § 1-1101.01(5))

A political committee is a proposer, individual, committee (including a principal campaign committee), club, association, organization or other group of individuals organized for the purpose of, or engaged in, promoting or opposing a political party, the nomination or election of an individual to office, or any initiative, referendum or recall.

A political committee is either an authorized or an unauthorized committee (well according to the Fenty folks he was unauthorized) An authorized committee means the principal campaign committee or any other political committee is authorized and designated by a candidate on the Statement of Candidacy form to receive contributions or make expenditures on behalf of such candidate. An unauthorized committee is any other political committee, which has not been designated by a candidate.

Political Committee Registration Requirements
(DC Official Code § 1-1102.04)

All political committees, authorized or unauthorized, including campaign committees, independent or political action committees, and initiative, referendum or recall committees, must register with the Office of Campaign Finance and file a Statement of Organization form within ten (10) days of organization or designation by a candidate on the Statement of Candidacy form. A political committee must have a treasurer and a chairperson.

Political Committee Reporting Requirements
(DC Official Code § 1-1102.06)

The treasurer of each political committee must file a Report of Receipts and Expenditures on January 31st, and the 10th day of March, June, August, October, December, and 8 days preceding the date of each election, if the political committee is actively supporting candidates during the year in which an election is held. Political committees not supporting candidates during a year, in which an election is held, must file a Notification of Non-Support form with the Office of Campaign Finance on or before January 31st of the year in which an election is held. Reports must be filed by January 31st and July 31st from political committees filing Notifications of Non-Support and by all other political committees during a non-election year.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | October 7, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I hate to start by calling this a bit of a "gray area," but it is -- though it shouldn't be.

I recall a lot of other candidate campaign events being held at D.C. recreation centers, too. In particular, there was a noisy rally one morning for Mayor Fenty's campaign at Turkey Thicket before the primary.

I'm fine with government buildings being used for campaign events if there already is a process in place for community groups to use the government buildings. I'm assuming that process would require payment of a space rental fee...?

However, I'm NOT fine with public schools banning all partisan political events on their premises. Does no one see educational value in political debates or forums being held at public schools? I think that's part of civics education. And don't schools ever hold mock campaigns and mock elections anymore to teach kids what campaigning and elections are all about?? (NOTE TO DCPS ADMINISTRATORS: That's a way to put some fun back into education for the kids, as well as teaching them about leadership skills.)

Posted by: Kathy8 | October 7, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I recall rallies being held in public schools around the country during the presidential campaign.

Posted by: efavorite | October 7, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Okay WaPo, please have your copy editors do the job properly. Spellcheck and grammar check need to be proofread too. Since statue and statute are both real words, such typos can be missed -- unless a human being actually edits the copy, too.

Traci Hughes, a Gray spokeswoman, said the campaign decided to hold the events at some schools because, they say, there is "some wiggle room in the statue."

Posted by: sheridaw | October 8, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

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