Mayor Vincent C. Gray is questioned by reporters after a news conference May 23. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Amid calls for Mayor Vincent C. Gray to step down because of an ongoing criminal investigation, the Senate sent a bill to President Obama late Thursday that provides the District with more flexibility in setting its special election schedule in cases of vacancies for the mayor’s office and D.C. Council.

Passage of the bill, which now permits the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to schedule special elections for vacancies between 70 and 174 days after a vacancy occurs, means that D.C. could hold a special mayoral election on Election Day, Nov. 6, if Gray were to step down by late August. Under previous law, which said special elections could occur no more than 114 days after a vacancy, Gray would have to occur by next week to hold a special election in November.

Senate Democratic aides said the bill was on a list of uncontroversial bills slated to be approved unanimously late Thursday and not approved in response to the brewing scandal. But the timing is unmistakably ironic, because it comes the day after three members of the D.C. Council called on Gray to step down amid an investigation into an alleged “shadow campaign.”

The bill was introduced in the House by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the city’s non-voting representative, and aides said she has pushed for changes to D.C. special election laws since last decade, when former mayor Adrian Fenty and Gray resigned council seats to run for the city’s top job. Most recently, Norton pushed for swift passage of the bill after the resignation of City Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), in hopes that Congress would change the special election law before Primary Day on April 3 when officials hoped to hold the special election in order to avoid spending roughly $360,000 in city funds to conduct a special election on another date. The House approved the measure in late Feburary.

In a statement Thursday, Norton said Gray has an “obligation” to address the allegations. She called Tuesday’s revelations of a $653,800 “shadow campaign” working secretly on Gray’s behalf “deeply disturbing.”

Norton referred to Gray as a “longstanding” friend “who I have always known to have high professional and ethical standards.”

Aides said her office did not plan to issue a statement on passage of the special election bill.

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