In a column for WRC-TV today, consultant and pundit Chuck Thies suggests that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is being held to a different standard than his fellow mayor Anthony A. Williams, citing the recent calls for Gray’s resignation.
Williams, of course, had a devastating campaign scandal of his own in 2002, when his ballot petition effort was found to be marred by thousands of fraudulent signatures.
“I do not recall any D.C. Council members or pundits calling on Williams to resign or suggesting he should not continue to seek reelection,” writes Thies, who informally advised the Gray campaign. “To the contrary, Williams was encouraged to soldier on and mount a write-in campaign. ... The presumption of innocence afforded to Williams is not being granted to Gray.”
Setting aside (a) the question of whether calls for resignation are justified, (b) the different timing of the two scandals and (c) the fact that federal authorities never pursued charges in the 2002 matter, Williams and Gray handled themselves in markedly different ways.
Gray has declined to address key allegations about his 2010 campaign, most notably his knowledge of a $653,500 shadow campaign at work on his behalf, citing the advice of his lawyer. He has said generally, “This is not the campaign that we intended to run.”
Williams was aggressive in decrying the malfeasance inside his campaign from the outset. Days after the news broke that city Republicans had identified thousands of obviously faulty signatures, Williams said he was “nauseated, disgusted, distressed” by the allegations, according to Washington Post reports.
”People should be dismissed, and people should be held accountable,” he said. Indeed, Williams subsequently accepted the resignation of his campaign manager Charles Duncan.
A month later, after elections officials ruled he could not appear on the primary ballot and he decided to run a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination, Williams sent a letter to 77,000 voters apologizing for the “inexcusable” fraud.
“I want to take this opportunity to personally apologize to you for the poor judgment and inexcusable actions of my early campaign organization,” the letter read. “I take full responsibility for the mistakes that were made. In no way do I condone or excuse any unethical or illegal actions.”
By that point, Williams had to drop his original campaign theme — “One City, One Future” — in favor of the more practical “Do the Write Thing.” It all worked: Williams easily won re-nomination as a write-in and won a second term as the Democratic nominee, putting questions about the legitimacy of his campaign behind him. During the entire period, I could find no occasion in news clips where Williams declined to answer a question on the advice of lawyers.
In recent months, as federal prosecutions have corroborated the allegations of payoffs to minor mayor candidate Sulaimon Brown and revealed the vast shadow campaign, Gray has not offered an apology, only partial explanations.
As for the kind of accountability Williams spoke of in 2002, that of course is not possible now that the 2010 campaign is two years behind us.
But you can understand the D.C. Council members and pundits calling for the mayor’s resignation have their own conception of accountability. So, too, does U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.