Gray: Critics on council have own motives for urging resignation

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and his allies continued to mount his defense Friday, seeking to repel critics who have called for him to resign after prosecutors disclosed that he was the beneficiary of a vast “shadow campaign” during his 2010 election effort.

Gray, in his first extended interview since the scheme was revealed Tuesday, lashed out at the council members who told him to step down.

During an appearance on NewsChannel 8, Gray (D) responded to the resignation calls, which came 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 told host Bruce DePuyt.

Catania, he said, was 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, who was elected to the council as a Republican in 1997, left the GOP in 2004 after breaking with President George W. Bush over his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Since then, he has been one of the council’s most socially liberal but also fiscally conservative members.

Catania said he didn’t mind being referred to as a former Republican. “I also once went to summer camp,” he said.

He added, “It’s interesting he has something to say about the council members who called for his resignation but has nothing to say about the three felons who were associated with his campaign that damaged the electoral process of the District of Columbia.”

Gray has remained mostly mum about the recent prosecutions of campaign operatives for various federal offenses.

Bowser, Gray said, “wants to be mayor, so I’m hardly surprised at that.”

The Washington Post reported last month that Bowser was among several council members who have taken steps to prepare for citywide runs. She did not return a call for comment.

And Gray reiterated statements from Thursday that he was surprised and disappointed that Cheh, a constitutional law professor and supporter of Gray’s 2010 campaign, wouldn’t “let the process play out.”

“That is normally the way it works in America,” he said.

But Gray said he was personally hurt that Cheh turned to voice mail to inform him that she would be calling on him to step down. “She could have come upstairs and said, ‘Let me sit down and talk with you about this.’ I was a bit surprised about that,” he said.

Cheh responded: “I would imagine he is disappointed. I did want to speak with him directly, and I did leave other messages, but we were not able to connect.”

Gray won support from other quarters Friday, including from the city’s attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, who praised the mayor’s record during an interview on WAMU (88.5 FM) and said calls for his resignation are “extremely premature.”

“In my judgment, this is an honest man who is doing a very good job as the mayor,” he said. “He is, in everything I’ve seen, ethical. There’s no cutting of corners. There’s no evasion of the law with respect to anything that’s going on in the governing of the District.”

Federal prosecutors have been investigating Gray’s official campaign, and two campaign aides have pleaded guilty to several charges. This week, another Gray associate pleaded guilty to disbursing and concealing more than $653,000 in a separate, secret effort to help the mayor get elected. Gray has denied any wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, Gray called on residents to distinguish between the functioning of his administration and the “issues” in his campaign. Nathan said the investigation into the latter is “very serious” and “should be continued.”

A prominent minister also rose to Gray’s defense Friday, joining in criticism of the council members pushing for resignation.

The Rev. Willie F. Wilson, the politically active pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, said their calls are “doing more harm than anything” and suggested that Gray and his associates have been subjected to an unfair level of attention from prosecutors and reporters.

“If you look at campaigns at a local, regional, national level, we know that a lot of things happen,” he said. “I dare say, if we were to scrutinize the campaigns of every person on that council . . . they, too, might be weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

A key figure in the allegations of a shadow campaign, Vernon E. Hawkins, has been an employee of Wilson’s church, but Wilson said that Hawkins was not currently working there.

Wilson also lamented the news coverage of Gray, Hawkins and the other campaign associates. “You would think all of these people had robbed 10 banks and killed five people,” he said. “I hate to see such people be maligned as they have been.”

In the interview, Gray repeated his 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.”

Gray deflected the notion that he should have kept a closer eye on campaign matters. “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.”

Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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