Responding to new revelations of a vast “shadow campaign” at work for his election, Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday said he remains able to lead the city and urged the public to distinguish between the “issues” in his 2010 campaign and his mayoral administration.
“Take a look at what this administration has done,” Gray said, touting his work on public safety, economic development, education and other issues. “That’s why I wanted to make the distinction between the campaign, which we know there are issues with, and governing.”
He spoke only generally of the ongoing federal investigation a day after Jeanne Clarke Harris, a 75-year-old public relations consultant, admitted in U.S. District Court as part of a plea deal that she helped disburse and conceal $653,8000 in campaign funds secretly spent by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, a prominent city contractor.
“This is not the campaign that we intended to run,” Gray (D) said. He entered the race “for the right reasons,” he added. “I got out there to be involved in this because I loved the District of Columbia ... I know who I am. I get up every morning and look in the mirror and I see someone I respect,” he said.
Two other Gray campaign operatives have pleaded guilty to federal felonies related to illicit payoffs to Sulaimon Brown, a fringe mayoral candidate who alleges he was paid to verbally attack incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Gray would not discuss the identity of the figure, described by Harris but unnamed in court, said to have planned the shadow campaign.
“I feel absolutely certain ... that that will be revealed as this investigation continues to unfold,” he said. The Washington Post has previously reported that Vernon Hawkins, a close Gray associate, played a key role in organizing the effort.
Gray, speaking at a news conference to unveil a new “green alley” in the city’s far eastern corner, expressed some sympathy for Harris, whom he said he’d known “for a very long time.”
“I feel very badly about this, but at the same time, I’m concerned about what may or may not have happened in this campaign and certainly the appearance of what may have happened,” he said.
Apart from the shadow campaign, Harris admitted assembling “straw donation” checks totaling $38,000 that were funded and allegedly handed to the Gray campaign by Thompson.
Gray did not say whether he personally received checks from Thompson but defended not scrutinizing the donors — many of whom were friends, employees and relatives of Harris.
“I don’t think any candidate can say I’m going to sit down and review with everybody every check you get,” he said. “Yeah, it might be desirable, but you can’t do it, it’s not possible.”
Gray otherwise generally declined to comment on specific allegations in the ongoing criminal investigation.
“I would like to comment on all of this, to be honest with you,” he said. “This investigation is continuing. ... Obviously there is additional information that is unfolding.”
Asked if he plans to serve out his full term, which ends in January 2015, he said, “I have no plans to do otherwise.”
After taking questions from reporters, Gray was quickly escorted to his SUV by security.
Staff writers Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig contributed to this item.