Mayor Vincent Gray, left, sidled up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after crashing the press conference.
On the east lawn of the Capitol, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was joined
by local lawmakers in a press conference to demand that D.C. be allowed
to spend local tax dollars during the government shutdown.
payments to charter schools to Medicaid funds for needy residents, every
day that the government shutdown continues brings bad news for the
city. While Gray has tried to shield the city from some of the shutdown's effects on D.C. by declaring all city services "essential," the emergency fund used to pay the city's workforce of more than 32,000 will soon be depleted, according to the mayor.
"Why are we imperiled by the federal shutdown?" asked Gray. "And as far as I can see, there has been and there is no reasonable answer to that question."
Several dozen protesters waving signs cheered Gray, chanting the rallying cry: "Free D.C.'s budget."
Eleanor Holmes Norton also blasted members of her own party for shooting
down Republican efforts to let D.C. spend its own money during the
shutdown, saying, "It's shameful to hold the city's budget hostage."
Confrontation at the Capitol
It was the mayor's actions after the gathering that made headlines. He crashed a nearby press conference being held by Senate Democrats on the Capitol steps.
With reporters in tow and cameras rolling, he approached Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In comments caught by a WRC-TV camera, Reid was overheard telling the mayor, "I'm on your side. Don't screw it up.''
Gray says he did not know what the majority leader's comment meant.
Democrats have rejected Republican efforts to fund the government on a piecemeal basis and haven't indicated they'll make an exception for the District.
Gray says whatever political games are going on, they shouldn't involve the District. And he doesn't plan to back down on that point, even if the Senate Majority Leader asks him to.
"As you look at these circumstances, one can easily see that this is not something that should involve the District government," Gray said.
Gray calling for meeting
The confrontation comes after Gray sent a letter to Reid as well as President Obama and House speaker John Boehner, calling for a meeting to discuss the government shutdown and its impact on the District.
Medicaid grants and funds unemployment insurance have been affected. Payments to Metro are on hold, and the city's water and sewer authority is also now running on emergency funds.
Even the schools are feeling the impact. Gray says the city will not be able to make its quarterly payment to the charter schools, where more than 40 percent of public school students are enrolled.
Gray says he wants Congress to pass a bill allowing D.C. to spend its own, locally-raised tax dollars — a move that has happened during other shutdowns.
In the letter, the mayor warns: "Time is running out and, soon, I will have exhausted every resource available to me to protect our residents, our workers, and our visitors."