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Vincent Gray

This post was written by staff writer Catherine Moran.

D.C. Council members proposed various pieces legislation during their first legislative meeting of the year Tuesday, from building up the Metropolitan Police Department to full marijuana legalization.

Here are the top three proposed laws you should know.

1. Fully legalizing marijuana

At-large Council member David Grosso proposed a bill that would fully legalize marijuana in the District. While marijuana was decriminalized in D.C. and voters approved adult recreational use in 2014, Grosso’s legislation addresses past congressional intervention that prevented the city from regulating and taxing marijuana.

In June, Congress, which has jurisdiction over D.C., blocked an amendment that would have allowed the city to use funds for a legal marijuana retail market, according to Extract, a website focused on marijuana coverage.

“We know the war on drugs is and was a failure,” Grosso said, adding that it contributed to an increase in mass incarceration and is “racial in its implementation.”

Grosso said that his act is the logical next step in setting up a strong tax and regulatory system. The Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will now work on and address the legislation.

2. Increasing law enforcement numbers

Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray proposed a bill to increase D.C. police staffing, saying that MPD staffing is at the “lowest level in a decade.” MPD has more than 4,000 sworn and civilian members, according MPD, but Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham told Fox News in October that the number of sworn officers was slightly above 3,700.

Gray said former D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier emphasized meeting the 3,800 minimum officer threshold for several years as officer retention plagued the department.

The alumnus and former mayor said the city’s population surge requires increasing the number of sworn officers from 4,000 to 4,200, saying it was important to “increase the number of officers deployed to help neighborhoods most plagued by violent crime.”

The proposed legislation would set aside “adequate” funding in the budget for MPD, which would help to cover the cost of hiring, training and equipping officers, Gray said.

3. Access to free Wi-Fi

Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd introduced legislation to create a taskforce that will work to provide and oversee construction for free wireless internet access in the District. Todd said free Wi-Fi will be beneficial to D.C.’s economy. People with lower incomes can miss the chance to pursue other opportunities without access to the internet, where most job applications are now hosted, he said.

“Today high-speed broadband is not a luxury – it’s a necessity,” Todd said, “The internet divide is an economic divide.”

Todd said cities like New York and Boston have increased accessibility to free Wi-Fi. New York recently added free Wi-Fi and cellphone service in the subway system, according to The New York Times.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced their plans to add Wi-Fi to all underground Metro stations in December.

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Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 1:54 a.m.

Former mayor, alumnus wins D.C. Council seat

Former mayor and alumnus Vincent Gray won a D.C. Council seat on his 74th birthday. Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer

Former mayor and alumnus Vincent Gray won a D.C. Council seat on his 74th birthday. Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by staff writer Catherine Moran.

Alumnus and former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray won the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat on his 74th birthday in a landslide.

Gray, a Democrat, defeated his two Independent opponents with 87 percent of the vote, according to the D.C. Board of Elections.

People were already waiting outside the The Chateau on Benning Road NE more than 45 minutes before the watch party began. Inside, the large room quickly filled up with more than 100 people standing at the bar counter and banquet or conversing at the dozens of tables with sky blue tablecloths and candles. Pop music blasted across the room, and posters for Gray and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton decorated the room.

A big white sheet cake with a big blue icing letter “7” on top sat untouched on a table off to the side of the podium.

Gray said he decided run because he sees himself as a public servant and wanted to work on “troubling” topics in Ward 7. Gray said that while economic development, education and crime are his top priorities, he will listen to his constituents first and foremost.

“I have to be able to understand what is important to them,” Gray said.

Gray talked about how he wants to eliminate property taxes for people who are “financially strapped” or above a certain age, referencing a bill he worked on with Council member Anita Bonds.

Gray thanked the people that helped with phone banking and greeted people at the polls.

“We have lots of work ahead of us,” he said.

Gray also announced a summit on Dec. 3 to help establish priorities for the city, citing the large turnout for a similar summit he help when he was mayor.

“People told us what was important and we worked to craft that plan into the future of the city,” Gray said. “I still have copies at home of the One City Action Plan. And frankly that helped us shape the ensuring work over the next four years.”

“What I hope comes out of the summit is a we have an opportunity to state what we as the people of ward 7 want to see this ward become,” he said.

Gray, who grew up in D.C., was the first African American to join the Jewish fraternity Tau Epsilon Phi while he was at GW, and became the first chapter fraternity president to serve two consecutive terms.

“I had a great time at GW,” Gray said. “I met a lot of good friends.” He added that some of those friends were at the watch party.

Gray beat the incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010, but lost reelection in 2014 to Muriel Bowser, who won the Democratic primary, after a slew of campaign finance scandals.

Colicchio Proctor, one of Gray’s cousins, said that she is “very, very, very proud” of Gray at his watch party. Proctor said that she’d like to see more restaurants and businesses like Walmart or Target come to Ward 7.

“They have it in Northwest, but we need it in Southeast as well,” Proctor said. “I like the things I see in Georgetown.”

ANC Commissioner Edward Rhodes, who worked on Bowser’s mayoral campaign, said he supports Gray because he helped to create more jobs while mayor.

“He did a wonderful job as mayor,” Rhodes said. “Vincent Gray is gonna win, winning by a landslide, because he’s done what a lot of his constituents wanted him to do.”

Rhodes said that he voted a week ago and “will always vote.”

“If I was upon my death bed I’m going to crawl to the voting place and I’ll try to vote to let me die in peace,” Rhodes said. “So many died and worked so hard so that I can vote.”

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016 10:27 p.m.

Clinton, Gray come out on top in primaries

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at Lisner Auditorium last June, won D.C.'s Democratic primary Tuesday. File Photo by Desiree Halpern | Senior Staff Photographer

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at Lisner Auditorium two years ago won D.C.’s Democratic primary Tuesday. Hatchet file photo.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the final contest of the 2016 primary season in D.C. Tuesday night, The Associated Press reported.

With about 80 percent of the vote in, Clinton was ahead of challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., by nearly 50,000 votes, capturing 78.7 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 21 percent.

The A.P. called the race for Clinton shortly after 8:30 p.m., a little more than 30 minutes after polls closed.

Clinton had already secured the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination with primary victories in four states last Tuesday, making the District’s primary largely meaningless in determining the nominee.

Sanders, who previously committed to remaining in the race until after the D.C. primary, planned to meet with Clinton Tuesday night, NBC News reported.

District voters also cast ballots Tuesday in contested Democratic city council primaries in Wards 4, 7 and 8, as well as an at-large seat.

Two years after losing his re-election bid, former District mayor and GW alumnus Vincent Gray won the Ward 7 council Democratic primary, according to the A.P. He was ahead of incumbent Yvette Alexander 60 percent to 33 percent with more than 90 percent of precincts reporting.

Gray lost to now-Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2014 as his administration was embroiled in a campaign finance scandal.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evens, who represents Foggy Bottom, ran unopposed in his Ward 2 primary.

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A senior adviser to former mayor and alumnus Vincent Gray was sentenced to six months in prison Tuesday for obstructing the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign finances.

Vernon Hawkins, 77, pleaded guilty to giving a false statement to the investigators in August 2013 over telling one of Gray’s aides to leave town to avoid the investigation, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Eight Gray supporters were prosecuted because of their involvement in the illegal fund that propped up Gray’s 2010 mayoral bid. Jeffrey Thompson and Jeanne Clark Harris also pleaded guilty to funding and coordinating the $653,000 in extra campaign funds.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told The Washington Post that Hawkins “stepped to the dark side” when he “participated in the corruption of a fair election process.”

“You should have had more respect for the voters of this city to elect a mayor of their choosing without corrupting the process,” she said to Hawkins.

The federal prosecutors determined they would not make any charges in the case with the evidence from the years-long federal investigation.

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 2:20 p.m.

Gray announces he will run for D.C. Council

Former D.C. mayor and GW alumnus Vincent Gray announced he will be running for a D.C. Council seat Thursday. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

Former D.C. mayor and alumnus Vincent Gray announced he will be running for a D.C. Council seat Thursday. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Joseph Konig.

Former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced his candidacy for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat Thursday.

His bid comes about two years after he lost his mayoral reelection campaign to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. In a press conference Thursday, Gray said he was focused on where he could do the “greatest good” if elected.

“I’m a public servant at heart,” he told WAMU Thursday. “This is an opportunity to continue to do things for people.”

Gray, an alumnus, previously represented Ward 7 from 2005 to 2007 and later served as Council chairman. He has lived in the area for many years, and has spent time fixing up his home there since he left office.

“Ward 7 is home. I’ve lived in Ward 7 for a very long time,” Gray told WAMU. “There is, sadly, wide dissatisfaction at this stage with the representation.”

Council member Yvette Alexander currently represents Ward 7 on the Council. Polling done by a pro-Gray political action committee, Higher Ground PAC, has Gray leading Alexander by 16 points, according to a press release.

Gray’s reelection bid was marred by a years-long federal investigation into a $668,800 illegal campaign fund that allegedly buoyed his 2010 mayoral bid. Federal officials ended that investigation in December without bringing charges against Gray. Gray has since said if it were not for that investigation, he could have coasted to a reelection victory. Several of Gray’s associates were prosecuted as a result of the federal investigation.

“When people ask why I am returning to the campaign trail, I tell them, ‘Because we have a lot of work to do,’” Gray said in a statement Thursday.

The Ward 7 democratic primary will be held June 14.

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Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015 1:46 p.m.

Federal prosecutors end investigation of Gray

Vincent Gray, mayor

The U.S. Attorney’s Office ended the investigation into a shadow campaign that helped fund Former Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign. Hatchet File Photo.

Former Mayor Vincent Gray is in the clear.

A federal prosecutor for D.C. said the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not file any other charges for an illegal campaign fund of more than $600,000 that propped up Gray’s 2010 mayoral bid, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Gray, who is an alumnus, had been under investigation for several years, and the investigation marred his reelection bid.

Gray has always denied knowledge of the fund. In a statement released on Wednesday, he said he looks forward to moving on to the next chapter in his life, which will be “dedicated to service.”

“Here in the District and around the country, many people have had their faith in our justice system tested,” he said. “Justice delayed is justice denied, but I cannot change history.”

Several of Gray’s advisers were taken to court over the investigation, and eight were prosecuted. Several other politicians, including At-Large Council member Vincent Orange were tied to the Jeffrey Thompson, the businessman who created the fund. Thompson pled guilty in 2014.

U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, whose office led the investigation, said in a release on Wednesday that there was not sufficient evidence to continue the investigation.

“Based on a thorough review of the available evidence and applicable law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has concluded that the admissible evidence is likely insufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction against any other individuals related to the federal and local political campaigns,” the office said in a statement to The Washington Post.

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Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 10:15 a.m.

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry dies at 78

Ward 8 D.C. Council member and former Mayor Marion Barry died at the age of 78 early Sunday morning.

Barry died at United Medical Center, less than 24 hours after he was released from a brief stay at Howard University Hospital on Saturday, the Washington Post reported. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray ordered flags be flown at half-mast on Sunday in the District.

Marion Barry

Former D.C. Mayor, Marion Barry, died at the age of 78 early Sunday morning. Photo used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

“Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the city,” Gray said in a statement. “He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him.”

Gray said he would work with the D.C. Council and Barry’s family to “plan official ceremonies worthy of a true statesman of the District of Columbia.”

Barry served four terms as D.C. mayor, winning election in 1978, 1982, 1986 and again in 1994 after serving six months in prison for drug possession. Barry had been at the center of an FBI investigation in which he was caught on video smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room.

As mayor, he brought a summer jobs programs for young people to the District, funded senior citizen centers and beefed up employment program that benefited the city’s largely African-American population.

Barry was serving his second term as Ward 8 council member since leaving the mayor’s office for the last time in 1999. He planned to hand out turkeys Tuesday to those in need ahead of Thanksgiving, an annual tradition.

Before he became one of D.C.’s most colorful and infamous mayors, Barry came to D.C. in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement and became the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a role that sparked his political career in the city.

D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser also commemorated Barry, calling him “an example to me and so many others.”

“Mayor Marion Barry gave a voice to those who need it most and lived his life in service to others. I – along with all Washingtonians – am shocked and deeply saddened by his passing,” Bowser said in a statement.

– Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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Mayor Vincent Gray declared a cold-weather emergency for Tuesday night, according to a city press release.

The “cold emergency plan” will go into effect at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, which means the city will take measures like setting up warming sites for the homeless. D.C. law requires homeless residents to be placed in shelters if a hypothermia warning goes into effect.

“During what is predicted to be dangerously cold weather, I encourage all to be mindful of persons who might need shelter,” Gray said in the release.

Cold-weather alerts are issued when the temperature is expected to fall to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Fahrenheit with precipitation.

Tuesday’s temperatures were about 25 degrees below average, the Capital Weather Gang reported.

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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 2:47 p.m.

D.C. rolls back plans for streetcar system

D.C.'s streetcar program was cut back this Thursday.  Media Credit: Photo courtesy of the District Department of Transportation.

Mayor Vincent Gray released a less ambitious plan for the city’s streetcar system this week. Photo courtesy of the District Department of Transportation.

D.C.’s plan for a city-wide streetcar system has faced some significant scaling back.

Mayor Vincent Gray announced Thursday that the city is looking to spend $800 million on a system that would have about eight miles of tracking, the Washington Post reported. The initial plan would have had more than 20 miles of lines run across the city.

The new plans call for extending the 2.2-mile system between H Street and Benning Road into Georgetown and across the Anacostia River, the Post reported. But both the line running north to south from the Takoma Metro station to Buzzards Point and the M Street line would be put on hold.

A report in 2012 found that a streetcar network in D.C. could reduce transportation costs and create thousands of new jobs. A ride on one of the streetcars would cost $1.

In 2013, Georgetown University lobbied the city to put one of the streetcar stops on its main campus.

The D.C. Department of Transportation had announced plans for the streetcar system to open in spring 2012. Since then, the project has faced major delays, and streetcars on the H Street line have just recently begun simulated service with no passengers.

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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced legislation to accompany the striking down of D.C.'s handgun ban Wednesday. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced legislation Wednesday to accompany the striking down of D.C.’s handgun ban. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Robert Evans

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced legislation on Wednesday that could make concealed handgun permits a reality in certain parts of the District.

Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council member Tommy Wells announced the “License to Carry a Pistol Emergency Amendment Act of 2014” after a federal judge struck down D.C.’s handgun ban in July.

The Council will consider the legislation on Sept. 23, and the provisions could go into effect as early as Oct. 22.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s press conference.

1. Personal responsibility

Mendelson highlighted the amendment’s focus on a more extensive gun safety and handling training programs for both District residents and non-residents, who can also get a license to carry in D.C. if they meet the same standards as residents.

Those who have been previously diagnosed with a mental illness or condition will not be eligible for a license, and if a person is found to be intoxicated while carrying a gun, they will face criminal and civil penalties, the legislation says.

“The responsibility lays on the person who holds the gun,” Mendelson said.

2. Wells: “We don’t know if we want to be the poster child of gun laws in America.”

Wells said that the program models those of states like New York, New Jersey and Maryland, which have adopted similar policies.

“There’s no reason why we can’t complete the process before the Council period, and move from the emergency to the permanent legislation,” he said. “We will move quickly, and I believe we will move smartly.”

The bill will create a five-member Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board appointed by the mayor to review any denial of an application for a concealed-carry license.

3. No guns in the House

It is “paramount,” the press release said, to keep the areas around government buildings, like Congress, gun-free and public officials will not allow people to carry concealed weapons in certain areas.

Gray said he was aggravated with the forced loosening of D.C. gun laws a year after the Washington Navy Yard shooting, which left 12 people dead and eight more injured.

“It’s my view that the District needs less guns, not more guns,” Gray said. “We will continue to work together as a government, not only to uphold the law, but also do the best job as we can to preserve safety here in the District of Columbia.”

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