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D.C. Mayoral Hopeful’s Sort-Of Jewish Past

The September 14 Democratic mayoral primary in Washington D.C. is drawing national attention, with the capital’s current mayor, Adrian Fenty locked in a tight race with challenger Vincent Gray.

At issue are the future of the city’s education reform and Fenty’s style of governing; but as always there is also a Jewish angle.

Vincent Gray, the city council chairman who is running neck to neck with Fenty, has somewhat of a Jewish background. It turns out, as Gray’s supporters in the city’s Jewish community point out, that Gray was a member a Jewish fraternity during his years at George Washington University. In fact, he was elected president of the fraternity for two consecutive terms.

What led the African-American Roman Catholic young student to the predominantly Jewish Tau Epsilon Phi? Back in 1963 GWU’s Greek system did not accept Blacks to fraternities, so Gray turned to TEP, which was formed in 1910 by Jewish students who faced a similar problem. The Jewish fraternity was the first to break the ban on allowing black students to take the pledge and Gray became a proud member, and later president, of TEP.

Now, days before the primary, Gray’s old friends from the fraternity house bought a full-page ad in the Washington Jewish Week, telling the story and endorsing his candidacy. “Yesher Koach, brother Vince,” they conclude in the ad. Both Gray and Fenty took some time to woo Jewish DC voters. They both participated in a debate at the city’s Sixth and I Historic Synagogue and answered a questionnaire prepared by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

There are few, if any, Jewish-related issues in the campaign. Some in the community have criticized Mayor Fenty in the past for attending a February 2009 tennis championship in Dubai that refused to allow Israeli player Shahar Pe’er to compete. Fenty later said he did not now Israelis were banned from the tournament.

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