As Vincent C. Gray (D) hunts for votes in the critical Ward 3 neighborhoods of Upper Northwest Washington, his campaign team appears to be going out of its way to link him to council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Over the past week, Gray volunteers have been near the Van Ness Metro station handing out campaign materials for both the chairman and Cheh. And if you see someone putting up a Gray yard sign in Ward 3, it's a safe bet they are also putting up Cheh signs nearby.
So are Cheh and Gray working together? Not exactly. But Dave Donaldson, Gray's Ward 3 coordinator, said it's no accident that residents may not realize that Gray and Cheh are not running as a ticket.
"It's my plan," Donaldson said Thursday night as he placed a Cheh sign near a Gray sign outside a candidates forum in Foxhall. "Word association."
Cheh, a freshman who is apparently so popular she hasn't drawn an opponent in the Democratic primary, is so far officially neutral in the mayor's race.
But considering that she has been a vocal critic of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and often praises Gray, few question where her loyalties lie.
Given his expected strength in the African American community, Gray doesn't have to win majority-white Ward 3 to prevail citywide. A 30 percent showing in Ward 3, however, could cement Gray's path to victory, observers say.
And that's where Cheh comes in.
Donaldson said it makes sense for him to try to link Gray with Cheh because both stress "transparency" and good government, a potentially potent message in the wealthy Northwest neighborhoods of Chevy Chase, Palisades, Glover Park, Cleveland Park, American University Park and Tenleytown.
Cheh did not immediately return calls seeking comment about whether she agrees with the Gray-Cheh "word association." But Donaldson stressed that the Gray-Cheh alliance is -- at least for now -- unofficial.
"It's not Gray endorsing Cheh or Cheh endorsing Gray," Donaldson said. "It's just the Dave Donaldson way."