Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, whose first term has been marked by tremendous success in improving the city even as an investigation into possible wrongdoing in his 2010 campaign has persisted, ended months of speculation Dec. 2 when he announced that he is running for reelection.
Gray, 71, who collected nominating petitions required to run, is among almost a dozen contenders for the post. Four council members—Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent B. Orange and Tommy Wells—are among the candidates whose names will appear on the ballot in the April 1, 2014 primary, which will essentially decide who is elected in the Democratic stronghold. The candidates will have until Jan. 2 to collect the signatures of at least 2,000 Democrats to get on the ballot.
More challengingly, however, the first-time mayor will have to face D.C. voters amid an ongoing federal probe into alleged corruption in his 2010 campaign that may have spread into his administration. Four high-level aides associated with the campaign pleaded guilty to felonies for orchestrating an illicit $650,000-plus “shadow campaign,” bankrolled by local businessman Jeffrey Thompson, on Gray’s behalf, and for paying former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to attack then-incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Gray, who has not been charged, has maintained his innocence, and said he waited this long to allow U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen Jr. to complete his investigation.
"I was hoping that all the 2010 stuff would be over," Gray told the Associated Press. "It isn't, and it will continue on however long the U.S. attorney chooses to investigate it."
The incumbent and his supporters have argued that despite the investigation, the District has thrived under Gray’s leadership. The population has expanded, construction of new projects has soared, test scores for students have improved, crime has dropped and property values have skyrocketed—among other improvements.
“Our record speaks for itself. Look at the fiscal stability in this city, look at the economic development, look at the education improvement, look at the way people are getting back to work,” Gray told reporters as he left the Board of Elections, according to an NBC News video.
Yet questions persist. Several of Gray’s rivals said his continued presence in the Wilson Building would leave a taint of corruption on the District. Wells (D-Ward 6), came out punching in a statement he posted after Gray made his intentions to run known.
“Vince Gray was elected under false pretenses and doesn’t deserve a second chance because he ran a corrupt campaign,” Wells said. “I’ve known Vince Gray for years and I’m disappointed that he let me down—and everyone in D.C. down.”
Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), was much more diplomatic, saying voters deserved answers.
"I have always said that it did not matter who was in the race. And that has not changed,” she said in a statement. “[But] now that Mayor Gray is seeking re-election, he will have to end his silence and answer the many legal questions about his 2010 campaign.”
Jermaine House, spokesman for Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) declined comment and the campaign of Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large), did not reply to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment.
Washingtoncitypaper.com quoted him as saying “I will say there is a distinct difference between Vincent Orange and Vincent Gray.”
Businessmen Andy Shallal and Christian Carter, however, said Gray and the other politicians who are running represent the old school of corrupt D.C. politics.
For example, Orange, who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2006, has also been plagued by questions about Thompson, who contributed major funds to his 2011 campaign for the council.
“Vincent Gray has run out his turn and his life in politics and it is time to hit a reset button,” Carter, the 31-year-old CEO of staffing firm New Columbia Enterprises, told the AFRO. He added, “I actually welcome him into this race because it will help voters draw a comparison between what he represents—old ideology and old ways and his old boy network—and what I represent which is fresh, new and innovative ideas and ideology and a new look.”
Shallal, the Iraqi-born owner of Busboys and Poets and a supporter of D.C. arts and culture, echoed those sentiments.
“Mayor Gray is the fifth City Hall politician to enter the race. He’s also the latest reason why D.C. voters should look past City Hall to find the progressive leadership the District so sorely needs now,” he said in a statement. “We won’t get better leadership in the Mayor’s office by electing another career politician who’s already in City Hall. This election is about electing a Mayor with a different vision, not a Mayor whose political resume adds up to another round of business-as-usual.”
Lesser known candidates were less forthcoming in their opinions on Gray’s announcement. Michael Green chose not to comment. Frank Sewell, who ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat in 2004, did not respond to phone calls requesting a statement, and the campaign manager listed on his fliers, the Rev. Anthony Motley, told the AFRO that he is not associated with the Sewell campaign. Candidate Octavia Wells, whose listed address is that of the Community for Creative Non-Violence homeless shelter near Judiciary Square, left a voice message telling a reporter that Gray was “not qualified” to be mayor because “he supports homosexuality and homosexuality is illegal.”