The Mayor’s Race Is Now Ready
Although the race for the Democratic Party nomination for Mayor of the District of Columbia seems to have been going on for some time now, with several high-profile candidates from the District Council and one from the restaurant field running hard, there was always something incomplete about the whole thing, as if something or someone were missing.
That would be incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, over whom hung and still hangs an investigative cloud by the Feds about his 2010 campaign, said cloud apparently preventing him from committing to make a re-election run. Nevertheless, here, there and lately, Gray dropped hints like breadcrumbs for squirrely political reporters—and met very, very privately with a few neighborhood leaders around the city, seeking their advice.
Well, things are a lot clearer today.
Mayor Vincent Gray has decided to run for re-election. In doing so has changed the game so much that one can truly say: let the games begin.
Gray made the announcement in a Dec. 2 letter, which basically said he had a pretty good record to run on, ignored his potential legal problems, asked everyone to join in and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. News4 reporter Tom Sherwood, a long-time, sage observer of D.C. politics, going back to the Barry years, broke the news.
Cornered by the press at last, Gray continued to refuse to deal with the ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign. The investigations involve, among other things, an alleged shadow campaign by financier Jeffrey Thompson which reportedly raise more than $500,000 in unreported funds. Several Gray aides from that campaign have been indicted or have pleaded guilty to felony charges. U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen has said the investigation is continuing.
Asked again about the investigation and the impact it had and might have, Gray said, “We’re trying to look ahead. … I didn’t do anything.”
Tommy Wells, who is the District Councilmember for Ward 6 and running for mayor, obviously thinks he did. In a strongly worded statement, Wells said, “Vince Gray was elected under false pretenses and doesn’t deserve a second chance because he ran a corrupt campaign. I’ve known Vince Gray for years, and I’m disappointed he let me down and everyone in D.C. down.”
Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, also running for mayor and the first candidate to announce a mayoral run, addressed the issue of the investigation and the mayor, although in less stringent terms. “Gray will have to end his silence and answer the many legal questions about his 2010 campaign,” she said.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans is running for the second time to become mayor in his long political career. At this writing, he has made no official statement on Gray’s status. Likewise, neither has at-large councilmember Vincent Orange, also making his second mayoral run.
For sure, Gray’s entry into the race casts a different light on the campaign. He has to collect enough signatures to qualify but that should not be a problem. He remains—cloud or no cloud—a formidable candidate with a successful record of accomplishment to run on. But ethics in this city remain a critical issue, and the gap between rich and poor has widened considerably during his tenure. Economic, class, cultural and racial divides remain in a fast-changing city, the demographics of which are changing dramatically.
It’s quite possible that some candidates—restaurateur Andy Shallal and perhaps councilman Orange—entered the race on the premise that Gray was not going to run. Now, that situation has changed and dramatically so.
Still, Gray is hardly a shoo-in simply because he is mayor. Whatever accomplishments he can tout, he remains a mayor subject to the possibility of further revelations about his 2010 campaign. The silence he has kept about that campaign is troubling, over and above the “I’m silent on the advice of my attorney” reason. And that campaign will become a topic in every candidate forum that Gray attends. Now, it’s truly a question not only of the truth about the campaign but one of politics. And for his opponents that topic is now squarely on the table.
On the flip side, education and the schools seem to be improving. The city is prosperous and is being celebrated by many as becoming a “world-class” city. Crime is down, and Walmart is coming. Cranes dot the city’s skyline. Gray can take a good deal of credit for that.
But “I didn’t do anything” doesn’t make for much of a campaign slogan. The Democratic primary election is April 1, which is also April Fools’ Day. Absolutely stay tuned.