Vincent Gray seeks reelection: Candidates and others react

December 2, 2013

Vincent Gray’s sudden decision to seek reelection generated strong reactions from competitors. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Mayor Vincent C. Gray brought his months of deliberation on whether to seek a second term to an end Monday, when he picked up nominating petitions for the April 1 Democratic primary ballot. His fellow candidates and other political observers quickly weighed in on the move in interviews and statements provided to The Washington Post.

Candidate and D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), in an interview: “It certainly makes it harder to turn the page on corruption among our elected leaders, you know,” he said. “I think it’s clear that the mayor was elected under false pretenses.”

Wells also opened another provocative line of attack on Gray, noting the mayor sought millions in taxpayer funds for businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, implicated in the funding of an unreported “shadow campaign” for Gray’s election in 2010, and suggesting that the cozy relationship between the embattled businessman and Gray ultimately cost the city millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs after Thompson’s Chartered Health Plan collapsed last year.

“You cannot deny that the mayor brought legislation to give Jeffrey Thompson more money from the government,” Wells said, referring to the city’s settlement of a lawsuit with Chartered shortly after Gray took office — a settlement Wells had voted to support at the time, before the shadow campaign revelations. He added, “I really believe that our city would like to turn the page to a government that is not mired in the corruption politics of the past.”

Candidate and D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), in an interview: “Welcome to the race,” he quipped. “I look forward to the dialogue.”

Orange, a last-minute entrant himself, said he had no intention of bowing just because the incumbent had entered the race. Instead, Orange suggested the wave of populist appeal that delivered Gray to office in 2010 had eroded, and perhaps more the mayor may have realized: “He’s willing to leave people behind, and I’m not willing to leave people behind. That’s the biggest difference between us,” he said.

That was a reference to Gray’s veto of a bill, the Large Retailer Accountability Act, requiring Wal-Mart to pay a super-minimum wage and, more recently, his reluctance to back an across-the-board minimum wage hike to $11.50 hourly minimum, which the council will take up on Tuesday.

“I think I bring a more balanced approach to governing,” Orange said. “I look forward to the dialogue.”

Candidate Andy Shallal, in an interview: “I am happy for him,” he said. “I am a little concerned about his choice of campaign manager.” That comment was a reference, Shallal said, to some tweets he’d seen from Gray 2014 honcho Chuck Thies: “So I guess it’s going to be flame-shooting here for a while. I think that’s a kind of a shame.”

Shallal, the owner of the Busboys & Poets restaurant, had originally said he might not run if Gray ended up seeking a second term. He acknowledged there might have been some rope-a-dope involved: “I think it might be an advantage [for Gray] to have more candidates in the race.” But he said he wasn’t concerned about the new shape of the field: “I have my own lane. I don’t think I’m really in his group. They have their own circle, the Wilson Building group. I’m not a part of that.”

Candidate Reta Jo Lewis, in a statement: “This news simply reinforces the choice facing the people of our city. The Mayor is part of the status quo and he has refused to openly answer the numerous questions about his last mayoral campaign. He has failed to provide the vision and the leadership that I will bring to make this a city that works for everyone.”

Candidate and council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), in a statement: “I was the first person to announce that I am a candidate for Mayor of the District of Columbia.  I did it because I believed passionately about the future of our city and the tremendous opportunity that we have to improve education, build more affordable housing, and to bring real economic development and jobs to all parts of the city. I have always said that it did not matter who was in the race.  And that has not changed.  Now that Mayor Gray is seeking re-election, he will have to end his silence and answer the many legal questions about his 2010 campaign. My only hope is that all of the candidates give residents what they deserve — an honest and ethical campaign that is about the many issues that make our city a proud place to live.”

Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), in an interview: “I’m excited – and he managed to really keep it a secret,” she said. “I guess he wanted to make sure that he was doing the right thing.”

Alexander said that if the measure of a good candidate for re-election is whether his constituents are better off than four years ago then Gray is well-positioned. “The city is going in the right direction. There haven’t been any complaints, only good things to say,” Alexander said.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), in an interview: “He has been so hard-working that the word tireless is an understatement, a gross understatement,” he said. “Being on the council you get to see that up close, so that’s why for him to walk away from something that he loves so much would be unthinkable.”

Graham said it was also clear Gray wouldn’t run worrying about the federal investigation: “I can see very clearly what he’s doing. He’s not going to live in fear. He’s going to live for the today and say whatever happens is going to happen in the future – or it’s not going to happen.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), in an interview:  Mendelson, who is also seeking reelection, said it was helpful for voters to finally know their choices, but said he wouldn’t offer any advice on whether Gray should be reelected. “I have to stay neutral with all of these colleagues in the race,” he said. “I do think it’s good that the uncertainty has just finally resolved.”

Terry Lynch, a Bowser supporter and longtime Democratic activist: Because he’s the incumbent, Lynch said, Gray starts out as “the front runner, even with all the baggage.”

“You’re cutting ribbons all over the place, you’re bestowing jobs, starting programs,” he said. “That said, because of all his baggage, he has left the door open for someone to seize the mantle. The right candidate and the right campaign can seize it.”

Ron Lester, a veteran Democratic pollster who worked for Gray in 2010 but is not aligned with a 2014 candidate: “While his opponents have a microphone to speak into, the mayor can speak into a megaphone,” he said, adding that the large field helps Gray because he already has a base of support in the city.

“The fly in the ointment in the investigation,” he said. “Any development could dramatically change the campaign overnight. We’ve got four months to go. That’s a lot of time.”

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Mike DeBonis · December 2, 2013