“I don’t see any scenario in which Vince Gray could win another race,” said Johnny Allem, a supporter of Gray’s 2010 campaign who has been active in city politics for four decades. “The issue of his last campaign won’t go away. You can make the argument that the city government hasn’t suffered, and I think it’s running fairly well. But that’s not what’s on people’s minds.”
The talk of Gray’s possible downfall intensified last week with guilty pleas from two former aides who paid a minor mayoral candidate, Sulaimon Brown, to stay in the race and harass then-incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Already, potential rivals have begun laying the groundwork for a 2014 run, much earlier than normal in the electoral process. D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) have been meeting with potential financial backers and with community leaders who could help broaden their citywide appeal, according to several people with knowledge of the meetings.
Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s mayoral ambitions are on hold as federal authorities investigate his 2008 bid for reelection to an at-large council seat, political analysts say.
Other D.C. Council members have an eye on higher office, but they have not moved as conspicuously as Bowser, Evans and Wells. They include at-large members Michael A. Brown (I), David A. Catania (I), Phil Mendelson (D) and Vincent B. Orange (D).
In light of the appeal of an outsider in a political crisis, speculation has also emerged about potential wild-card candidates such as Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and Machen’s top assistant, Vincent H. Cohen Jr.
Gray’s supporters say the mayor could mount a political comeback if the federal probe wraps up swiftly without directly implicating him. An early start on reelection and a crowded field could compensate for Gray’s weakened political punch.
Whatever happens, the District’s racial divisions, a factor in Gray’s defeat of Fenty in the 2010 Democratic primary, are likely to resurface in 2014 as some of Gray’s African American supporters are increasingly disillusioned. The possibility of two white candidates — Wells and Evans — could further expose the divide.
Bowser, Evans and Wells have been making overt moves to position themselves in recent weeks, according to people with knowledge of informal draft meetings.
Bowser appeared this month at the annual dinner of the regional Trial Lawyers Association — a group that is known to provide significant financial support to candidates and that has earned a reputation for backing winners.