Embattled D.C. mayor seeks support from Council members


Mayor Vincent Gray wipes his brow during his weekly press conference in an alley between 58th St. NE and 59th St. NE in Washington, DC, July 11, 2012. With the mayor's campaign finances under investigation, the event turned into a media inquisition. (Daniel C. Britt/THE WASHINGTON POST)
July 12, 2012

Just hours after three council members called for his resignation, embattled D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray phoned most of the remaining council members, asking they stick by him until the U.S. Attorney’s Office completes its investigation into his 2010 campaign.

In phone calls on Wednesday evening and during the day Thursday, the members said Gray reiterated in private what he has been saying publicly: He has no plans to resign. Underscoring his continued hold on power, Gray also gauged members’ legislative needs and stressed that he remains committed to working on projects of importance to them.

“We talked, and I expressed to him what I guess he wanted to know,” said Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), a chief ally of the mayor on the 12-member council. “I told him, I was not going to call for his resignation. And then we talked about some priorities I had in my ward.”

Gray’s outreach to council members, similar to private pep talks he’s holding with senior staffers, illustrates how rapidly the political landscape is shifting around him. On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said that a secret $653,000 effort funded by one of the District government’s most prominent contractors corrupted the 2010 mayoral race and helped Gray get elected.

After the extent of the alleged fraud was revealed in federal court, Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David A. Catania (I-At large) called for Gray’s resignation.

In an interview Thursday, Gray said he has called “almost every other council member” to tell them he hopes “they wouldn’t join the other three.”

So far, no other council member has called for his resignation.

Gray added he was agitated that his former colleagues — particularly Cheh, who he considered an ally and friend — spoke out without “letting the process play itself out.”

“I’m very disappointed in Mary Cheh doing this,” Gray said after he swore in the three members of the city’s new ethics panel. “She is an attorney, supposed to be a constitutional lawyer, [and] until someone has proven something, there is no reason to raise those kind of issues.”

In response, Cheh said: “We are not talking about a court of law. We are talking about the health of the District. And on that matter, my request stands.

“I consider him a friend. . .but it’s a matter of healing the city. If you have deep wounds, you can’t heal until you clean them out.”

Gray appeared to be helped by concerns among some council members that the District government could be crippled if he is forced from office.

If Gray were to resign, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) would become acting mayor until a special election could be held. The council would then have to agree on a temporary replacement for Mendelson, who became chairman June 13 after Kwame R. Brown was forced out of office after admitting he fraudulently obtained two bank loans.

A special election for chairman is scheduled for November. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate sent a bill to President Obama that gives the District more flexibility in setting its special election schedule in case there are vacancies for the mayor’s office and council.

“If the mayor steps down, he will put the leadership of the government into turmoil and uncertainty for at least two years, and that is a major decision,” said Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), adding he worries that experienced officials will flee the government for more stable jobs. “So, while I am angry and frustrated regarding his campaign activities, we really have to be reasoned and sure before we put our city through this.”

Mendelson, who met with Gray late Wednesday night, said Thursday he has “no ambition to be mayor.” But he added, “I try to be ready for whatever I have to do.”

Mendelson, who also expressed concern about disruption to the city government, said he is urging his colleagues to “just sit down in the boat” instead of rushing to judgment.

When Gray called council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) Wednesday night, Graham told Gray he had “only a couple of days” to better explain his role in the alleged “shadow campaign” before he, too, would seek his resignation.

“He is going to make his own decision on this, but I have to make a decision too,” said Graham, who spoke to Gray for 20 minutes. “I really want a statement, and I want it to occur soon.”

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this article.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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