THE QUESTION put to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was simple: Did he know, before or during the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary, about a secret, well-funded and illegal “shadow campaign” on his behalf?
“We ran a campaign based on the laws and principles of the District of Columbia,” the mayor replied during an appearance Friday on Bruce DePuyt’s “NewsTalk” on NewsChannel 8. That Mr. Gray would go on television, refuse to answer that basic question and then make the incredible claim of having run a campaign in keeping with accepted standards speaks volumes about his arrogant belief that, short of being hauled away in handcuffs, he owes the public no accounting for his actions.
Set aside for the moment whether Mr. Gray was aware of the $653,000 unlawfully used to purchase materials and hire workers to secure his victory over then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty two years ago — money allegedly supplied by a prominent businessman with significant contractual interests with the D.C. government. It is evident that the official Gray-for-mayor campaign — the one that Mr. Gray proudly proclaimed to be “based on laws and principles” — had its own myriad troubles. A campaign official responsible for day-to-day finances conspired with a consultant to illegally divert Gray campaign funds in a slimy scheme that enabled a fringe mayoral candidate to continue his attacks on Mr. Fenty, Mr. Gray’s main opponent. The two men, Thomas W. Gore, longtime friend to Mr. Gray, and Howard Brooks, close friend to Mr. Gray’s campaign chairwoman, each pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and are awaiting sentencing.
On Friday, the same day Mr. Gray was using words such as integrity to defend the kind of campaign he set out to run, The Post’s Nikita Stewart detailed how $100,000 in cash supposedly used for “polling/mailing lists” was actually doled out to campaign field workers. Campaign Treasurer Betty Brown admitted it to Ms. Stewart. Moreover, according to an investigation by the Associated Press, those day laborers were routinely being paid twice the legal limit in cash. It’s not the first time Mr. Gray’s campaign ran afoul of the rules about cash. Previous reporting by Ms. Stewart revealed that the campaign collected cash donations over the legal limit and unlawfully converted some of them into money orders.
Mr. Gray’s excuses — that he was busy as D.C. Council chairman worrying about the city budget and that he did the best job he could of running a campaign in a short period — fall short. Leadership is about putting together a team to carry out your direction and accepting responsibility for the outcome. Perhaps the most maddening part of Mr. Gray’s latest interview came when Mr. DePuyt mentioned his campaign slogan of “character, integrity, leadership” and wondered if it was possible suspect monies paid for the literature bearing that message. Before saying that he hoped not, Mr. Gray actually chuckled, as if there is anything amusing about this unfolding scandal.
The only time Mr. Gray was really forthcoming was in unloading on the council members — David I. Catania (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) — who have called for his resignation. Instead of impugning the motives of elected officials who are rightly troubled by how the democratic process was corrupted, Mr. Gray might acknowledge there is a higher bar for elected officials than not getting indicted. He has, as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) put it, “an obligation to clear this matter up quickly.”