In his first extended interview since prosecutors disclosed that he was the beneficiary of a vast “shadow campaign” during his 2010 election effort, Mayor Vincent C. Gray lashed out at the legislators who called for his resignation in the wake of the news.
Gray (D) appeared Friday morning on NewsChannel 8’s NewsTalk. Host Bruce DePuyt asked Gray to respond to the resignation calls, which came Wednesday afternoon from David A. Catania (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).
“I think it depends on which of the three you’re talking about,” Gray said.
Gray dismissed Catania’s critique as politically motivated: “Let’s be honest, David Catania is a Republican who became an independent. We forget that we have partisan politics in the District of Columbia. ... He never supported me; he certainly didn’t support me in the election.”
Catania, elected to the council as a Republican in 1997, left the GOP in 2004 after breaking with then-President George W. Bush over his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Since then, he has been one of the council’s most socially liberal but also fiscally conservative members.
Gray noted that he’d moved to lessen Catania’s influence in government health-care agencies. Catania, as chairman of the council’s health committee, had a relatively free hand under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to shape policy and management in the agencies he oversaw. Gray said he found that “completely inappropriate” and reasserted his control.
“I don’t think he liked that,” he said. “So it doesn’t surprise me at all that he came out and made the statements he did.”
Bowser, he said, “wants to be mayor, so I’m hardly surprised at that.” The Post reported last month that she was among several council members who have taken steps to prepare for citywide runs.
Gray repeated statements from Thursday that he was surprised and disappointed that Cheh, a constitutional law professor and supporter of Gray’s campaign, wouldn’t “let the process play out.”
“That is normally the way it works in America,” he said.
But Gray also expressed personal hurt at how Cheh informed him she’d be calling on him to step down: “I would have even appreciated something other than just a phone call. ... I got a voice mail message that said she was going to do that. She could have come upstairs and said, ‘Let me sit down and talk with you about this.’ I was a bit surprised about that.”
Update, 1:45 p.m.: Earlier in the interview, Gray repeated his previous defenses of the campaign, calling it “truncated” and fast-paced and reiterating that he was not aware of illegal activities inside the campaign.
“We ran a campaign that was based on the laws and the principles of the District of Columbia,” he said. “That’s the kind of campaign I was running. That’s the kind of campaign I supported.”
Gray deflected the notion that he shouldn’t have kept a closer eye on things, including the two campaign operatives who have pleaded guilty to federal felonies.
“I had a full-time job as council chairman, and I had to spend a lot of time doing that,” he said. “I was in a situation where I wish I had more than 24 hours a day, where I wish I could have been in the campaign office more extensively. I wasn’t there very often at all.”
Gray specifically addressed his fundraising, saying he was not aware of problems, including the “straw donation” scheme revealed in the prosecution of public relations consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris. “The money that I was involved in raising,” he said, “went through the campaign and was recorded on our financial reports.”
He also claimed that money man Jeffrey E. Thompson, the city contractor implicated in the Harris prosecution, “never asked me for anything” and did not suggest that he intervene in a contractual dispute involving his heath-care company — settled during Gray’s tenure for $7.5 million. “There was no quid pro quo,” he said. “I was not involved in it, nor did Jeff Thompson ever ask me to be involved in it.”
Gray declined, however, to discuss details of his Jan. 10 meeting with Harris: “This is a part of the investigation that continues to unfold, and as it unfolds, those details will be revealed.”
More generally, Gray said he lamented that his attorney, Robert S. Bennett, has advised him not to speak more freely: “My makeup, my propensity really is to talk, and talk as extensively as I can about issues, so this is not really consistent with who I am.”
DePuyt mentioned Gray’s campaign slogan — “character, integrity, leadership” — and asked him whether he thought it was possible that illegal money, whether through straw donations or “shadow” spending, bought the literature bearing it.
“I certainly hope not, Bruce,” Gray said.