It would be hard to argue that Clark Ray, the highest-ranking openly gay member of Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration and its only department head, was not doing a good job as director of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, a job he'd held since August 2007. That's one reason he says his dismissal was such a surprise, not only to him, but to many in the community.
"I was called into the Wilson Building on Sunday [April 19] at 7 p.m. and was told the mayor wanted to go in a different direction," says Ray. "You're never prepared. I'm 45 and this is the first time I've ever been fired."
Ray grants that a political position, serving at the pleasure of the mayor, is not secure as other jobs may be. And he certainly knows politics, having worked in the Clinton White House, on the Gore 2000 campaign, and other spots in the D.C. government. Still, he says he has no hard feelings regarding his firing, despite having supported Fenty during his mayoral campaign.
A prepared statement from the Mayor's Office of Communications reads: "We cannot comment on personnel matter. However, the Fenty Administration is committed to promoting diversity, and will continue to make appointment that are representative of District residents. Members of the GLBT community serve the Fenty Administration at the cabinet level, and in other leadership positions across D.C. government. The Mayor is appreciative of the contributions that these and other employees have made to improve the lives of the residents of the District of Columbia."
While Ray says he's still supportive of the mayor, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club on April 20 passed a resolution introduced by longtime D.C. activist and politico Peter Rosenstein, asking the mayor to meet with the group to explain the rationale for Ray's firing and to reaffirm his campaign commitment to ensuring GLBT residents are included in the highest ranks of the Fenty administration.
"Today's firing of Clark Ray … is a slap in the face to the GLBT community," the resolution reads, in part. "… [T]here is now no openly GLBT agency head in your administration. In a city with a huge GLBT population, which supported you in large numbers, that is unacceptable."
Rosenstein, who supported Fenty during his mayoral campaign and who has known Ray more than a decade, says the mayor still has his support. "But this is one instance where I felt he made a mistake," adds Rosenstein. "I didn't hesitate to share my feelings. I expressed them in an e-mail to him."
Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is gay, was also at the Stein Club's April 20 meeting, though he had to excuse himself for a meeting with the mayor later that evening, where he said he would raise the issue of Ray's firing.
"It was a multidimensional decision," Graham said later in the week. "He didn't want to go into all the dimensions, but it was his view that it was time for a change. This was in his purview.
"I think we deal with a very dynamic set of opinions in this city that should be expressed. I don't see this as a weakening of the mayor's commitment. I think he's a solid friend of ours. If I didn't think so, I would tell you. We can agree or disagree with what he's done."
Agree or not, Ray defers to the mayor when it comes to running the city. He also agrees, however, with the substance of the Stein Club's resolution.
"That resolution is bigger than Clark Ray. That's about a community who believes, and rightfully so, that it should have a seat at the table. We have plenty of straight allies in the gay community, but there is nothing better than having a member of your community at the table."
For more information about the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, visit the group at www.steindemocrats.org.