PORTER WATKINS/THE HOYA D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the state of the District's Finances Thursday.
PORTER WATKINS/THE HOYA
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the state of the District’s Finances Thursday.

In his first State of the District Address, Mayor Vincent Gray spoke of progress in the District, while calling upon its citizens to work together to inhabit a more livable and prosperous “global capital.”

The address was held in the theater of Eastern Senior High School in northeast D.C., which Gray touted as an example of the “stunning transformation” that he said was underway in the D.C. public school system.

Quality education was a main focus of Gray’s speech, along with goals such as fiscal stability, community safety, economic opportunity and self-determination.

Gray boasted of D.C.’s successes in the past year, including an increase in school enrollment for the first time in 41 years, the opening of an on-demand treatment site for those diagnosed with HIV — the first of its kind in the U.S. — and the recent recognition as the fastest-growing retail market in the country.

Yet he acknowledged that these limited successes have not been enjoyed by the whole city and that acute challenges remain.

“We must consider a painfully obvious fact: The city that wins these accolades isn’t the same one that many of you wake up to each day. The truth is that the growth in our city has been a miracle for some — and a mirage for others,” he told the audience.

He cited the heightened number of citizens living below the poverty line, high unemployment rates, low high school graduation rates and D.C.’s status as the U.S. city most infected by HIV/AIDS as evidence of the divide in progress.

“I do believe that too many of us have operated under the false assumption that a rising tide therefore would lift all boats,” he said.

Gray attributed the disparity between rapid economic growth and high unemployment rates to a skills mismatch. He promised to expand workforce development and job training and stressed the need to train construction workers in anticipation of an “upswing” in the revival of the real estate market in D.C. He also said that expanded vocational education institutes such as the University of the District of Columbia are gearing to train graduates to work in the city’s fastest-growing sectors: technology, hospitality and health care.

Gray said that expanded vocational education is an important step toward eliminating the “culture of dependency” that has been cultivated in parts of the city.

“Public assistance should be a hand-up, not a permanent handout,” he said. “I’ve learned that when people are able to make their own way, when they become responsible for their own uplift, they become better providers, better parents and better people. That is why we cannot tolerate double digit unemployment.”

Gray pledged to prepare the District for this by increasing effective community policing, facilitating the reentry and reintegration of former prisoners into society and working closely with Homeland Security.

“We no longer can take our collective safety for granted,” he said “We must and will be prepared.”

Though Gray warned of steep budget cuts of up to $325 million in the coming year, he assured the audience that D.C.’s financial situation is less dire than that of most cities.

“Fortunately, we are better off than most. The District’s rebounding commercial real estate market and higher projected tax revenues mean that our cuts will be less severe than we had initially anticipated,” he said.

Still, he promised to trim government spending by improving the coordination of construction projects, consolidating capital of projects into a new department and implementing creative cost-saving measures.

Gray reminded the audience that citizenship is a “two-way street” and urged citizens to reach out to their government and become involved in the community.

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