The debate on Vincent Gray's executive record begins
Since a debate last week, Mayor Adrian Fenty has continued to sharpen his focus on challenger Vincent Gray's days in the city administration as director of the human services department under Mayor Sharon Pratt from 1991 to 1994.
Fenty's strategy is two-pronged: He's trying to paint Gray as a creature of a nebulous "old school," representative of a day when city services failed and residents were leaving en masse. But he also is starting to take very direct aim at Gray's performance as human services director. And Gray is starting to fight back.
Last night, at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Ward 3 Democrats, Fenty opened the direct attacks on Gray after a question on juvenile justice.
"At that time, the courts took over the juvenile justice system under a case called Jerry M." he said. "One of the things that the government failed to do in that time is close [the infamous Oak Hill Youth Center] and make it into a world-class facility."
"There are distinctions in this campaign," Fenty closed. "This is a huge one."
Gray responded angrily at the next opportunity: "How could you be so uninformed?" he said. The Jerry M. case, he said, "was filed in 1986" -- well before he became human services director. He also took credit for closing two delinquent youth facilities that had as poor a reputation as Oak Hill: the Cedar Knoll Youth Detention Center in Anne Arundel County and the Receiving Home for Children on Mount Olivet Road NE.
Further, he claimed, "We began to introduce services to people that were rehabilitative in nature."
So here's the independent fact-check: Gray was more correct than Fenty on Jerry M., but neither are perfect. The Jerry M. case was filed in 1985; the city signed a consent decree with plaintiffs in 1986, establishing an ongoing judicial role in city's juvenile justice system. During Gray's tenure, the city's movement of youths into community-based programs failed to solve overcrowding problems at the detention centers.
With no money to build any new facilities, the problem compounded. In 1994, toward the end of Gray's time as director, the Superior Court judge overseeing Jerry M. ordered the city to pay $1,000-a-day fines for each youth held over court-imposed population limits.
Both the Receiving Home and Cedar Knoll did close under Gray's tenure. But the city did not do so without great pressure from judges and -- in the case of Cedar Knoll -- Congress. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whose district included Cedar Knoll, passed legislation requiring the facility's closure.
It's worth noting that the issue of overcrowding at delinquent-youth facilities is still very much with us. The Receiving Home's replacement -- the Youth Services Center built by Mayor Anthony Williams on the same Mount Olivet Road site -- has suffered from the same overcrowding problems under Fenty. Some say the replacement for Oak Hill -- the New Beginnings Youth Facility -- is too small to accommodate demand.
The Jerry M. case, despite Fenty's best efforts, rolls on.
Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post
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