WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray’s approval ratings continue to suffer after a first year in office marked by scandals and questionable staffing decisions that led to a federal investigation.
A poll released Thursday by Clarus Research Group shows that just over one-third of district voters approve of Gray’s
performance, and more than half disapprove. The approval rating has risen slightly, from 31 percent to 34 percent, since a similar poll in March, when allegations that Gray traded an administration job for critical comments about then-incumbent Adrian Fenty were still fresh.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s disapproval rating has spiked significantly since March, from 40 percent to 53 percent. And while black voters still approve of the Democratic mayor more than they disapprove, the poll shows Gray’s black support is eroding.
Gray said Thursday that he’s not surprised, attributing the bleak numbers to the residual effect of his administration’s early blunders. He said he’s confident the poll numbers will turn around once those missteps recede and district residents begin to recognize his accomplishments.
“What we hope for is to be regarded in the way we should be, which is for what we’ve done,” Gray told The Associated Press.
Gray said Tuesday his top priorities were to bring fiscal stability to the district and improve job opportunities for
residents across the economic spectrum, which he said he’s accomplished with a structurally balanced budget and a program that gives companies incentives to hire district residents.
The approval rating for the D.C Council, besieged by ethics controversies of its own, dipped to 30 percent, with 55 percent disapproval. In March, 54 percent of respondents approved of the council and only 22 percent disapproved.
The poll of 500 self-identified registered voters was conducted from Monday to Wednesday and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Respondents were called on both landlines and cell phones.
A federal grand jury is investigating claims by Sulaimon Brown, a minor mayoral candidate, that he was given cash and money orders and promised a job by members of Gray’s campaign staff in exchange for his negative comments about Fenty at campaign appearances.
Brown has also given authorities a sheet of talking points that he claims Gray handed him to use against Fenty, The Associated Press has reported.
Brown claims Gray was aware of the payments, which Gray denies.
He has denied any wrongdoing and said Brown was promised only an interview, not a job. Brown was hired briefly for a $110,000-a-year government position but was fired after less than a month for what administration officials said was inappropriate behavior. The administration also acknowledged doing a poor job vetting Brown, who has multiple arrests on his record.
Gray was also criticized for hiring the adult children of several of his top aides and paying excessive salaries to some of
his senior staff. He has replaced his chief of staff and communications director and cut ties with longtime friend Lorraine
Green, who chaired his campaign and transition.
Gray said he hopes the investigation will conclude quickly and conceded his administration is bracing for more bad news in the event that any charges are filed.
Clarus president Ron Fancheux said news about cronyism and criminal investigations have framed Gray’s first year in office.
“His ratings, and those of the council, are suffering from a cloud of uneasiness that hangs over city politics,” he said.
Despite the largely negative tenor of his first year in office, the mayor has received cautious praise for the timely delivery of city services, declining crime rates and continued reform of the district’s troubled public schools.
The poll shows a stark racial divide among district voters.
Gray’s approval rating among blacks is 48 percent and his disapproval rating is 37 percent. Among whites, 16 percent approve and 77 percent disapprove.
Gray would lose a hypothetical Democratic primary rematch with Fenty by a wide margin, 48 percent to 33 percent, the poll shows.
Gray defeated Fenty 54 percent to 44 percent in September 2010.
Gray would also be trounced in a matchup with former Mayor Anthony Williams, the poll found. Neither Fenty nor Williams has said publicly that he plans to return to politics, and the next mayoral election is not until 2014.
Political consultant Chuck Thies, who has managed several district campaigns and occasionally advises the mayor, said Gray’s newly hired senior staffers should use the poll as a road map to improve the mayor’s performance.
“This is a very good time for the mayor to get a snapshot of district residents’ opinion of his first year in office,” Thies
said. “There are capable hands around the mayor right now. The people around him now will not look at numbers like that and ignore them.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)