Updated 3:30 p.m. with comments from Current publisher Davis Kennedy
A respected chain of community newspapers withdrew its endorsement for Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s reelection Wednesday, saying new allegations leveled in federal court this week “forced us to rethink” the nod.
The Current newspapers last week endorsed Gray (D), saying he had “done well in managing the city” and explaining that they believed that Gray was “in the dark” about an unreported campaign waged on his behalf by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson. The Gray campaign heavily touted the endorsement, saying neighborhood papers like the Current “have their finger on the pulse of our communities.”
On Monday, Thompson pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in federal court, in the process implicating Gray in knowing about and planning the shadow campaign. That forced the Current to revisit its stance.
“Even within the context of Monday’s revelations, there’s still room to believe the mayor, as Mr. Thompson could indeed be spinning yarns to facilitate his plea deal,” Wednesday’s editorial read. “But we question whether federal prosecutors would allege Mr. Gray knew of the illegal campaign unless they had some evidence beyond Mr. Thompson’s word. Doing so would not make sense in such a high-profile case.”
The loss of the endorsement represents one of the first major public defections from Gray since the Thompson allegations were aired Monday. The withdrawal denies Gray a chance to promote the support of a paper well distributed in upscale Northwest neighborhoods, where he is not expected to do well in the April 1 Democratic primary.
Reacting to the retraction at a Wednesday morning news conference, Gray said that while prosecutors may have made new claims, he has not wavered from his denials of wrongdoing. “There’s nothing I said before that’s different at this stage,” he said. “I maintain what I’ve maintained before … and that won’t change.”
“I think they have to make their own decisions about what they do,” Gray said of the Current. “They have to make their own decisions and you have to find out from them what their reasons were.”
Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies said Wednesday he told the Current the campaign was pulling the rest of the advertising it had planned through Election Day, about $2,000 worth. “Although we don’t have to agree entirely with the opinion of a newspaper, we certainly cannot support a newspaper that has no courage and we’re certainly not going to fund an operation that can’t stand up for its own beliefs,” he said. “I cannot fund a business that is not courageous and yields to smear campaigns.”
The new editorial said the next mayor “should be above reproach” and a new endorsement would come “in the near future.”
Davis Kennedy, the paper’s publisher, said it is not the first time his paper has lost advertising after making an endorsement: Four years ago, he said, the campaign of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty pulled a run of full-page ads after the paper endorsed Gray.
“I think people can pull their ads as they see fit,” he said.
Kennedy said he is still inclined to believe Gray over Thompson but prosecutors’ actions Monday made standing by the earlier endorsement untenable.
“Right now, there is just a possibility of doubt about Mr. Gray,” Kennedy said. “It might be a remote possibility, but it’s still a possibility, and we need to be careful of an endorsement where there is a reasonable possibility of doubt.”
“It’s possible we might still endorse him, who knows?” Kennedy added. But he declined to say what would have to happen for the endorsement to be restored: “I don’t want to go into details until we decide what we’re going to do.”