In the aftermath of his arrest alongside 40 other protesters last week, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has gone to some lengths to describe his arrest as a heat-of-the-moment decision.
Moments after he emerged from jail, I asked him whether he was expecting to get arrested. “I really didn’t think about getting arrested or not getting arrested,” he said. “But once the demonstration started in the street, I was going to be right there with my fellow citizens.”
On Wednesday, he referred to the arrests as “spontaneous combustion” in a morning news conference. Then, during an online chat with Washington Post readers later in the day, he was asked about the supposed spontaneity, by a skeptical questioner who pointed out that protest organizers had consulted with police ahead of time.
Wrote Gray, “I did not make the decision to be arrested until I was at the rally. I did not discuss this with council members. In fact, when I sat down in the street, I asked one council member, ‘Are you planning to be arrested?’ While the event organizers may have discussed this with other people, I was not involved in such discussions.”
But apparently some high-level folks in the Gray administration might have been aware Hizzoner would end up in the hoosegow.
That afternoon, before the protests, a handful of city labor leaders met with City Administrator Allen Y. Lew to discuss various issues. There, according to John Rosser, head of the Fraternal Order of Police union representing corrections officers, Lew hinted that his boss would end up in handcuffs.
“I may be acting mayor later this evening,” Lew said, according to Rosser, specifically mentioning the possibility that Gray could be arrested. A second labor source, also in the meeting, confirmed Lew’s comment.
Rosser added that Lew’s remark was “offhanded” and that he “didn’t mention [the arrest] was a certainty.”
Telling your designated No. 2 that he might be taking the municipal reins is not exactly the act of an impulsive man. “I don’t think it was spontaneous as [we were] led to believe,” Rosser said.
Tony Robinson, Lew’s spokesman, says that his boss “categorically denies” making the comment. Robinson said that Lew had no idea the arrests would happen until after 5 p.m., when Deputy Mayor and acting Chief of Staff Paul Quander told him that Gray’s arrest was imminent.
“[Rosser] was gone by then,” said Robinson, who suggested that the allegation might be rooted in ulterior, labor-related motives.
Does it matter whether the arrests were “spontaneous” or not? Either way, they got national media attention, thanks to Gray’s involvement. Whether he decided to do it five minutes ahead of time or five hours would seem immaterial.
But what Gray seems to be trying to establish is that he engaged in a crime of passion, so to speak — that he became so overcome with the injustice of the District’s nonautonomy that he simply had no choice but to block traffic and go to jail. A premeditated arrest, on the other hand, would lack a certain panache.