Although the announcement was not a surprise, the council’s bow-tied mainstay had raised speculation over the summer that he would step down.
Instead of campaigning early and flexing his fundraising muscle to scare away potential challengers, Graham began an exploratory committee — a public sign, he said, that he was wrestling with the possibility of retiring.
A telephone poll that Graham commissioned in October also made clear that he was exploring whether ethics controversies could hurt his chances. In the past year, Graham has been criticized by the city’s ethics board and reprimanded by his council colleagues for an alleged quid pro quo from 2008.
“That’s old business,” Graham said Monday. “It was before my last election.”
Graham said he was also buoyed by the partial dismissal recently of an alleged whistleblower case regarding lottery contracts that he oversaw.
“It helped to have that cleared away. The judge said that the guy was let go because he didn’t perform well, that’s it.”
The matter is not entirely settled. A federal judge last week dismissed some key elements of former contracting official Eric W. Payne’s lawsuit against the city and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, Payne’s old boss. But parts of the lawsuit remain active. Payne has claimed he was retaliated against and ultimately fired because he objected to political interference into a lottery contract award involving Graham and then-council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. Graham and Gray have vigorously denied allegations of wrongdoing.
Graham said the largest factor in his decision to enter the race was a religious one.
“I’m a spiritual person, and I wanted to make sure that what I am doing is lined up with what I am supposed to be doing,” Graham said. “I don’t want to sound like Saint Francis of Assisi, but the fact of the matter was I thought maybe it was time for me to back away from this because I have been in service to the public since 1984.”
Graham faces a crowded field of challengers, including Brianne Nadeau, Beverley Wheeler and Bryan Weaver. All have made clear they will make an issue of Graham’s ethics record.
All three took aim at Graham Monday. As he made his announcement at 10 a.m., Nadeau filed signatures qualifying her for the ballot and announced that on Tuesday she would report more than $90,000 in new fundraising.
In a statement, Weaver struck first on the issue of ethics: “Washingtonians can no longer close their eyes and ears to the city’s corruption.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.