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D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray used school reform to kick off his run for mayor Saturday in downtown Washington, where an estimated 350 people intermittently chanted, “Send Fenty home!”

Several current and former council members were in attendance, including at-large members Michael A. Brown and Phil Mendelson. Virginia Williams, mother of former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, sat in the front row. In 2006, she supported Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Several other candidates have announced that they, too, intend to challenge Mr. Fenty in the September Democratic primary, including well-known former TV reporter Leo Alexander. But Mr. Gray’s speech targeted Mr. Fenty on schools, which the mayor has said since day one of his administration are his No. 1 priority.

In a lengthy autobiographical speech that touched on crime, jobs and his hard-scrabble beginnings, Mr. Gray told supporters at the headquarters of the Historical Society of Washington that his mayoral administration would provide ethical leadership, “bring people together” and restore real transparency to the decision-making process.

“[W]e need a mayor who understands that the best way to achieve real and lasting school reform is to involve the community — not impose his will,” Mr. Gray said.

With scores of teachers, public safety employees and other city workers cheering him on, Mr. Gray promised to “double our efforts to empower, recruit, reward and retain good teachers — and, frankly, fire not only bad teachers, but unproductive government employees in any position.”

Mr. Gray, a 67-year-old Roman Catholic, is a native Washingtonian who worked in social services before being tapped in 1991 to run the D.C. Department of Human Services. He returned to the private sector to found and run the faith-based Covenant House Washington. Former president of the Ward 7 Democratic Party, Mr. Gray ran his first race in 2004, capturing the Ward 7 council seat. In 2006, he ran and won the citywide chairman’s seat, beating his opponent 57 percent to 43 percent in the Democratic primary. He ran unopposed in the general election.

The theme of the Gray campaign, “One City,” reflects his promise to govern differently than Mr. Fenty has by building bridges and seeking consensus. His supporters sported T-shirts that said “Character.” “Integrity.” “Leadership.”

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