Mayor Vincent Gray, as my grandmother used to say, has a tough row to hoe in his effort to get reelected.
As voters headed to the polls for early voting this week, the question hung in the air: Did he know about an illegal “shadow campaign” to get him elected in 2010?
Jeffrey E. Thompson, a very rich and powerful man with plenty of reasons to need friends in high places, paid large sums of money to make sure his friends were elected to office. He plead guilty to illegally funding political campaigns—designing elaborate schemes to funnel money to candidates, then designing even more elaborate schemes to cover it up.
And money seemed to be no object. He had millions that he made from the government as a contractor. The millions it cost to get the right folks in the right places could have been considered a business expense.
That brings me to Gray, who has not been charged, even though federal prosecutors appear to be near ready to pounce. He claims he knew nothing about the shadow campaign.
The whole idea behind giving a lot of money to politicians is to curry favor with them, right? What kind of favor can you curry if the candidate doesn’t know? If Thompson didn’t drop an occasional reminder that it was he who was responsible for, say, the luxury SUV that Gray was being driven around in, what good would it do him?
“Dude, how do you like the ride?” he might have asked Gray.
“Comfortable,” Gray might have answered.
“You know that was me, right?” Thompson might have said. “Just keep it on the down. We refrigerated the console and loaded it with AquaDeco for you. Drink all you want.”
“Hey, Vince! How about that get-out-the-vote event the other day. Pretty good turnout, huh?”
“Sure,” Gray might have responded.
“I got that fixed up for you, dude. I got your back,” Thompson might have said. “I’m going to need to have mine, too. Dig?”
Even some of Gray’s staunchest supporters wonder if he can get the votes on April 1. His long-time friend and political ally, D.C. Council Member Marion Barry—the former mayor who overcame scandal to make a triumphant, nose-thumbing return to D.C. politics—told the Associated Press that Gray’s work is being overshadowed by the scandal, even as he endorsed him.
“The shadow campaign has masked a lot of good things he’s done, because that’s all people talk about,” said Barry, adding, “They don’t talk about his accomplishments.”
David Bositis, an expert on Black politics, told the AFRO after Thompson implicated Gray that he believes it will be tough for Gray to win.
“The worse thing for him is it is only…weeks before the election so people aren’t going to forget,” he said.
Even though Gray may not be charged, the fact that he’s been accused is enough to make some people shun him at the voting machine.
“If this derails his campaign and he is never indicted or he is later found innocent, then it will raise the question: Has Vince Gray been added to the long list of Black politicians who have been injured by false prosecution or the threat of prosecution?” asked Michael Fauntroy, an assistant professor of political science at Howard.
But though things look bad, political analysts said, there are some voters who will keep the allegations against Gray in perspective—middle-class Blacks and Whites who have seen their city thrive under his stewardship and Blacks who have seen our leaders attacked so many times that they are automatically suspicious of prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen’s timing, to some, smacks of an intentional effort to see Gray defeated.
“Nobody’s saying Vince Gray stole money from the city or took money from programs meant for seniors for his own purposes,” Fauntroy said.
And as Barry told the AP, Gray has “never been accused of impropriety of any kind” before the shadow campaign scandal.
So, despite what we have read in the documents released by Machen’s office,
Gray, like everybody else in America, is innocent until charged, tried and convicted.
Or until he cops a plea.
We’ll find out what the people think on April 1.
Senior Correspondent Zenitha Prince contributed to this report.