Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Thursday that if he is indicted by federal prosecutors, he will not leave office to fight the charges.
In a morning television interview, Gray reiterated his innocence and said he will “absolutely” remain on the job if charged. “I’m not going to walk away from this situation,” he said.
Gray addressed the prospect of federal charges 10 days after businessman and former political ally Jeffrey E. Thompson said in court that Gray knew about hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign spending made on his behalf in 2010. The mayor has not been named by prosecutors as a target, but after Thompson pleaded guilty in federal court last week, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. held a news conference and appeared to send a direct message to the mayor, saying the investigation is “not going away.”
In television interviews this week, Gray’s attorney acknowledged that charges against him are possible. But with less than two weeks until Gray stands for reelection in the April 1 Democratic primary, there is no sign that an indictment or a plea deal is imminent.
On NewsChannel 8 on Thursday, Gray was asked to respond to the suggestion made last week by one of his campaign foes, D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, that plea talks are underway.
“I believe that the mayor will make a decision, and he will make a decision real soon, because I believe that there are conversations now going on with the U.S. attorney and Mr. Gray’s legal team,” said Orange (D-At Large.)
Gray bristled at that suggestion Thursday, calling Orange’s comments “preposterous,” “irresponsible” and “absurd.” His attorney, Robert S. Bennett, said in a subsequent interview that the mayor and Machen's office are not engaged in negotiations.
“There are no talks, period,” Bennett said.
Of Gray’s assertion that he would remain in office even if charged, Bennett said, “That’s his decision. It’s a political decision.”
He added: “If he is indicted, we would ask for an immediate trial to try to clear his name before the [general] election. We will vigorously fight it.”
Whether Gray remains in office or not, criminal charges would create a remarkable set of circumstances.
Under D.C. law, Gray is entitled to hold office unless he is convicted of a felony or pleads guilty to one.
If he steps down or is removed, it would be the first mayoral vacancy since the city gained home rule from Congress in 1975. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) would become acting mayor pending a special election, and an at-large council member would assume Mendelson's duties until a new mayor was chosen.
If Gray went on trial while in office, he would become the second mayor to do so, following Marion Barry’s 1990 trial on drug charges. Barry announced that he would not seek reelection prior to going before a judge and jury.
Should Gray win the Democratic nomination in the upcoming primary and drop out of the race before the November general election, it would fall to the roughly 80 members of the party’s central committee to select a replacement.
Polls published prior to Thompson’s revelations showed Gray with a significant lead over his rivals. But the allegations have put the campaign scandal back in the public focus and has placed Gray on the defensive during the primary campaign’s closing weeks.
Asked to handicap the race Thursday, Gray demurred: “You play out the game as hard as you can, from inning one to inning nine,” he said. “I think you just work as hard as you possibly can.”