Are Vincent Gray’s days as D.C. mayor numbered?

Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the courtroom revelation of a secret fund to aid his election in 2010 at his weekly press conference. (DC.gov/The Washington Post)
Petula Dvorak
Columnist July 11, 2012

Mr. Mayor-for-Now pulled up in his black SUV to an obscure alley in Northeast Washington on Wednesday, trailed by staff, aides, reporters, news vans and city residents.

Vincent C. Gray (D) was there to speak about a pilot program for green alleys: permeable surfaces to control storm-water runoff. To demonstrate this wonderful innovation, city officials tipped a rain barrel onto the newly paved ground and showed how rainwater just disappears, filtered through a cutting-edge pavement, passing through clean and untainted.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Just business as usual in the nation’s capital, Gray eagerly signaled.

Nope, sorry, Mr. Mayor-for-Now. We’re not buying it. Not on a day that ended with three members of the D.C. Council — Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and David A. Catania (I-At Large) — calling for your resignation.

See, we’re all a bit distracted.

Charging documents! Plea agreement! Straw donations! “Shadow campaign”?!

That’s what we want to hear you talk about. Even the Joe Citizens who showed up for the alley dog-and-pony show Wednesday thought that Gray might resign. Or at least explain himself.

“We’re tired of all this,” one man who followed the news vans told me. “Why do they all keep messing up?”

Given the revelations in court Tuesday, a resignation by the battered mayor wouldn’t be surprising.

Jeanne Clarke Harris, 75, a Gray donor and longtime friend, pleaded guilty to funneling about $650,000 from a big-time city contractor, Jeffery E. Thompson, to her relatives, friends and employees, who then washed that money with a little soap and water, and then moved it on to the Gray for Mayor campaign. Unreported and under the radar.

That buys a mountain of yard signs and T-shirts. And it was apparently a great investment for Thompson, who got the go-ahead from Gray shortly after he unseated former mayor Adrian M. Fenty to ask for $32 million more from the city that would go primarily to his businesses.

It was the latest and most sobering evidence of the utter disaster that Gray’s 2010 campaign had been. This is old-fashioned corruption. Cheeseball, dead-guys-voting kind of stuff.

One, two and now three campaign aides to Gray have pleaded guilty to federal charges. And each time, a swarm of reporters converge like locust on a ribbon-cutting ceremony or a swearing-in to see whether the mayor is finally going to talk about his crooked and illegal campaign.

Instead, there he was futzing with rain barrels, bantering with reporters about “paving the way” and being “right up our alley.”

Eventually, he addressed the derecho blowing through his administration.

“I’d like to comment on all this,” he said. But there’s an investigation and he can’t talk. So he didn’t really comment, yet again.

He did finally acknowledge that something stinks. “This is not the campaign we intended to run,” Gray said.

We should hope not.

And he expressed some sorrow for what went down in court Tuesday.

“I’ve known Jeanne for a very long time, and I feel very badly about all this,” he said.

There was a little bit of a movie-style monologue, the one where the antagonist takes off his mask and cape, and goes back to his childhood to explain how he started out with such good intentions.

“I got into this for the right reasons,” Gray said. He can look at himself in the mirror every morning and respect what he sees. He’s a native Washingtonian who loves the city, he said.

And that rings true to anyone who has followed his years of public service as an advocate for the developmentally disabled and homeless youth, or his detail-oriented and thoughtful term as D.C. Council president.

Gray asked that we remember that the campaign and his administration are two different things.

Well, not really.

There are several possibilities here. One is that Gray knew about — perhaps even orchestrated — the entire illegal shadow campaign, yet thinks it was justified because his heart was in the right place.

Or there’s the possibility that Gray truly had no idea that his longtime advisers, friends and colleagues did a whole bunch of illegal stuff to get him into office, Surprise Party Style.

“Surprise! You’re mayor!” they yelled. And he said, “Aw, shucks, I had no idea,” even after passing by all of their cars outside and hearing them shushing each other as he came up to the door.

The latter possibility seems unlikely. The mayor is not that storm water, just filtering through, coming out clean.

It’s hard to believe his days aren’t numbered.

For Petula Dvorak’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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