If so, Lael Gray, the Montford mom who lost a City Council seat by a hair, has a new blog for you.
by Jess McCuan . photo by Laurie Johnson
You might argue that Lael Gray, now 46, has been a feminist since age four. In a Halloween parade in Yonkers, New York, in 1970, the four-year-old Gray dressed up in her brother’s baseball uniform and carried a sign that said “Women’s Lib.” Young as she was, Gray says her mother (who made the sign) explained to her what it meant to the crowd of pointing onlookers. “I really got it, even at four years old,” says Gray. “I really got the message.” Now, her message to women—in particular, to those born in the 1960s—is: speak out. Tell your stories. Join the national and local political conversation, and don’t let a few gray strands scare you.
Gray, who’s lived in Asheville ten years, lost a particularly close race last November. In her first bid for political office, the mother of two came in behind Asheville City Council incumbent Jan Davis by just 35 votes. “It was deeply disappointing on the one hand, and really amazing on the other hand,” she says. “I did kind of come out of nowhere.”
But the candidate wasn’t entirely unknown when she launched her campaign last spring. After a career in filmmaking, marketing and graphic design for companies in New York City and Miami, Gray and her husband Jeff Japp moved to Asheville in 2001 and opened a Montford ice cream shop. Sweet Heaven Ice Cream and Music Café occupied a Montford Avenue storefront next to the Hunter Banks fly shop for four years, until the couple decided running it was more than they could handle. “We were exhausted,” she says. She took a job overseeing children’s programs at Asheville’s Jewish Community Center and still works part-time as the JCC’s program development and marketing director.
Gray says her brief stint in the public eye was thrilling. “Suddenly, I was being exposed to so many people and their viewpoints, and then I had the opportunity to get into a higher level of conversation,” she says. “Part of the let-down afterwards was that I wasn’t engaged in the conversation anymore.” But she feels she can continue that conversation through her blog, which she launched in December. Turning Gray: Women on the Edge of the Hill, will be a forum, she hopes, for women in their 40s to air their views about family, politics and culture. Gray has long been interested in generational politics, and she feels women in their 40s get overshadowed, sandwiched as they are between Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen Xers (born as late as 1981 or ’82). So far, she’s had around 20 volunteer contributors from here and elsewhere sign up to write blog essays, including Lesley Groetsch, a former co-host of the progressive talk radio program Local Edge Radio. The specific topics, according to Gray, will be “wide open.”
Meantime, after a whirlwind campaign, Gray hasn’t ruled out another run for office. “Looking at what’s going on at the state level and the redistricting, there’s this strange dynamic where the city of Asheville is often targeted,” she says. “We’re being so disenfranchised that I want to do something about it.”
Check out Gray’s new blog at www.turning-gray.com.