However, the next day, Gray’s office released a letter to colleagues in which Gray (D-Ward 7) accused the chairman of violating the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act, citing his health as a reason to reassign him to what Gray considered a downgrade. Justification for the post. In the letter, Gray wrote that he was “disappointed with colleagues who tried to exploit my health challenges to gain power.”
“I was surprised,” Mendelson said of Gray’s response. Speaking of their call, the chairman said, “There was no such outrage or backlash.”
Mendelson said his proposed changes reflect the view of a majority of the 13-member council that the aftereffects of Gray’s stroke have affected his ability to manage the health board’s heavy workload. In his new role, which depends on the committee approving Mendelsohn’s restructuring plan on Tuesday, Gray will chair a newly formed committee focused on hospitals and health equity, two of the committee’s main interests.
“On top of that, members have been concerned for months, members have been complaining to me for months,” Mendelson said. said, declining to elaborate. Mendelson said he and his colleagues were “surprised” when Gray didn’t attend the second half of the Marathon council meeting on Dec. 6 It went on late into the night, citing orders from his doctor to limit his work hours to eight hours a day.
Gray, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed for this article or to make his doctor available to answer questions about his health. In a written statement, Gray said he “does not rule out any opposition” to the option to remove him from the health board. He said he wanted to resolve the dispute “through discussion and diplomacy, not through headlines and labels”.
On Thursday, however, Gray’s office tried to put pressure on his council colleagues. In a separate statement, Gray announced he would introduce a resolution on Tuesday requiring that “all actions of the council be governed by the District of Columbia Human Rights Act,” which prohibits the use of people based on race, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics, including disabilities. ) discrimination. In a statement, Gray said it was “disappointing and appalling” that Mendelson “choose to violate the spirit” of the act, “if not the letter of the law.”
Age and health challenges are known to lead to complex and often awkward stages of careers in many occupations. Politically, these challenges can be magnified, as the players are often public figures who orchestrate their images and reputations.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), 89, resisted pressure to give up her seat because colleagues said she was suffering from memory loss. In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman won a US Senate seat in November despite voter concerns about his health after suffering a stroke. Fetterman, 53, insists that while campaigning, often virtually, he remains cognitively sound and physically restrained in recovery, even as his speeches visibly struggle.
Gray, who is 27 years older than Fetterman, invoked the senator-elect as he protested his council transfer. In a letter to his council colleagues, Gray wrote that he was “appalled” that he had to remind them of the support Fetterman had received from Pennsylvania voters “while going through challenges similar to mine.”
Gray has been a prominent figure in the city’s political scene for much of the past two decades, serving as city council chairman before becoming mayor in 2011. He lost the mayoralty in the 2014 Democratic primary to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. D). He returned to public office two years later when he won a council seat representing a predominantly African-American district on the city’s East Side.
Known for his detailed command over policy and his scrupulous work ethic, Gray has long advocated for the communities east of the Anacostia River — an area he likes to call the “East End” — where he also lives. Last February, he attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital being built in Ward 8, a development he has championed for years.
Nearly two months before that ceremony, Gray suffered a stroke. He spoke slowly and stuttered as he chaired a health committee hearing after he returned to parliamentary duties. He also seemed more animated at times, such as in June, when he spoke at the announcement of a new Giant supermarket in the northeast.
“Come on you guys, give it up!” he said, urging the crowd to applaud. “give up!”
In August, while he was still recovering, Gray tore his Achilles tendon, an injury that required surgery and physical therapy. His recovery program was interrupted for several weeks when he slipped and fell at home in mid-October, his spokesman Chuck Thies said. The setback caused Gray to miss several council meetings, Thies said. Gray was in a wheelchair and remained seated when the council called for a photo session in December.
Despite the restrictions, Gray insisted that his doctors had cleared him to work, and that “my only restrictions are physical and temporary.” In a letter to colleagues, he wrote that seniority “traditionally in considerations when assigning committees,” and his seniority on the board makes him more qualified than any of his colleagues to chair the health committee. “Breaking a long-established agreement,” Gray wrote, “will further demonstrate that the decision to demote me is a clear violation of the District of Columbia’s Bill of Rights.”
By citing Gray’s health, Mendelson opened himself up to criticism that he was being unfair to council members. But Mendelson said he believed “some explanation is better than no explanation.” Referring to possible violations of human rights law, Mendelson said Gray’s relationship with the committee was different from an “employer-employee relationship”.
“Human rights law applies to the employment relationship,” he said. “It’s a political organization.”
In the days since their dispute surfaced, none of the council members who will preside when lawmakers reconvene Tuesday have publicly voiced support for Gray or opposition to the changes proposed by Mendelson. Several Council members, including Kenyan R. McDuffie, District 5 Democrats Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who returned as rank-and-file independents in January, did not respond to requests for comment. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large), whom Mendelson designated to chair the health committee, also did not respond to messages seeking comment, as did council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).
“I don’t think anyone, myself included, would want to say or be seen to say anything negative about Vince — his health is something he should be talking about,” said council member Robert C. White (D-At Large) said. Meanwhile, White, who supported Mendelson’s proposed changes, said Gray was “clearly dealing with significant health issues.” Asked to cite evidence of these issues, White said, “That’s not what I’m going to say. I think the The best source of the story is the conversation with Vince.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) also said he supports Mendelsohn’s overall restructuring plan. Regarding Gray’s proposed new mandate, Allen said it made sense for council members to focus on issues “he’s clearly passionate about health care in the East,” though he added, “Of course I sympathize with Vince – unbelievable.” sympathy – he does not support the move.”
Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), whose term on the board is coming to an end and won’t vote on the reorganization plan, said board members were hearing during the past year when Gray “would lose his position.” The meeting “panicked” tripped over his words during his statement. Still, Che said she disagreed with Mendelson’s proposal because Gray “could still do his job.”
“It’s not only unfair to Vince, but it’s also unfair to his constituents,” Che said. “He’s served a long time and done great things, and his constituents keep sending him back to office.”
However, it is an open question how much support Gray received in Ward 7 regarding his feud with his colleagues. On Dec. 22, the ward launched an online petition calling on Mendelsohn to “reappoint” Gray as chairman of the board of health, which had attracted just 28 signatures eight days later.
Antawan Holmes, an advisory community commissioner for Ward 7, which has supported Gray in the past, said residents had seen little of the council member out and about in the past year. “We have questions about his performance,” Holmes said. “We need him to come out and say, ‘Hey, I’m fine.’ We hear he’s fine, but no one knows how he’s doing unless he sees him.”
Yvette M. Alexander, a former council member in the constituency who was ousted by Gray in 2016, said she had seen him at the opening of a Lidl supermarket and a community vigil in late September. She also saw him during a parliamentary hearing.
“He doesn’t seem like he used to be — that’s obvious,” Alexander said. “He just seemed a little slower than usual.” However, she also said it was up to Gray to decide whether he was capable of carrying out his duties. “I haven’t heard anyone at Ward 7 say we need a new representative. The only problem is, people will ask, ‘Where is Vince? He seems to be missing in action.”
Villareal Johnson, acting president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association in Ward 7 and one of several residents petitioning on Gray’s behalf, said he was not concerned about council members’ ability to do their job.
“Does he think? Yes. Does he have competent staff? Yes. Does he read? Yes. Those are the things council members do,” Johnson said. “If he has been approved by a medical professional to do the job and can do the job, what authority does the chairman have to say otherwise?”
Mendelsohn says he’s ‘not pretending to make a medical judgment’ about a colleague he called a “longtime friend and ally.” He said his hope was that the reduced workload would give Gray “ample opportunity to recover.”
“I’m not sure what the end point is for them,” Mendelson said of Gray’s response. “Is there going to be a lot of discussion about his health? Or is it pretending that what his staff is arguing about has votes?”
“If he wants to revoke it, he will need seven votes,” the chairman said. “I do not think so.”