Mayor Vincent Gray’s chief of staff meets with crisis manager Judy Smith

Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s chief of staff met last month with crisis management expert Judy Smith — the inspiration for the ABC drama “Scandal” — whose clients have included Monica Lewinsky and Michael Vick.

The July 11 meeting, a breakfast at Old Ebbitt Grill with chief of staff Chris Murphy, was not a consultation, said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for the mayor. Murphy and Smith met as a courtesy to the head of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, Ribeiro said.

Smith has “no formal role, no paid role” in the administration, Ribeiro said in an interview Monday after the Associated Press first reported the meeting.

Smith declined to comment.

Gray and his 2010 campaign have come under scrutiny over several allegations of payments and unreported expenses and contributions.

Murphy and Smith met the day after the U.S. Attorney’s Office outlined a $653,800 secret “shadow campaign” that helped get out the vote for Gray’s winning 2010 bid for mayor.

An associate of Gray’s pleaded guilty to her role in the clandestine effort the day before the meeting. A month earlier, two Gray campaign aides pleaded guilty and admitted their roles in paying minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to disparage then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on the campaign trail.

On the advice of his attorney, Gray has been silent on the guilty pleas and the investigation, leading supporters and critics to question whether he needs a crisis management team to handle the issue.

A majority of District residents surveyed believe Gray should resign, according to a Washington Post poll last month. Gray has said he will not leave office and has asked the public and the media to distinguish his job as mayor from his 2010 campaign.

After the poll was published, Robert S. Bennett, the mayor’s personal attorney, issued a statement cautioning against “a rush to judgment.”

But Gray still lacks someone to manage the public relations and politics surrounding the investigation and its fallout.

E-mails obtained by the Associated Press indicated the meeting was suggested by Barbara Lang, chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Max Farrow, a Chamber spokesman, confirmed that Lang made the introduction. Lang did not respond to a request for comment.

Smith has been behind the scenes managing crises in some of Washington’s biggest scandals, including Lewinsky’s affair with President Bill Clinton. She also helped former senator Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), who was arrested for alleged lewd conduct in a men’s restroom.

Her profile has increased with “Scandal,” starring actress Kerry Washington. Her self-help book, “Good Self, Bad Self,” was published this year.

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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