Ex-felon’s role in D.C. mayor race dubious

Gray campaign: Don’t know him

Cornell JonesCornell Jones
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D.C. mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray attended a picnic last month organized by a small nonprofit that works with ex-offenders and is run by a man who was once one of Washington, D.C.’s most notorious underworld figures.

That much no one disputes.

The group, called Returning Citizens United, held a family reunification picnic at Langdon Park in Northeast Washington that featured voter registration, speakers, free refreshments and clowns, according to an event flier. The Gray campaign confirmed that the candidate spoke at the event.

But questions about the extent to which 1980’s-era drug kingpin Cornell Jones serves the Gray campaign and at whose behest have led to conflicting and unresolved accounts from the Gray campaign, his council office and Mr. Jones himself.

Mr. Jones, the subject of a 2008 episode of the Black Entertainment Television network’s documentary series “American Gangster,” acknowledged in a telephone interview last week with The Washington Times that he was campaigning for Mr. Gray.

“It’s looking good. He’s in the lead, so it looks like we’ve done a piece of a good job,” Mr. Jones said.

“He’s the most personable candidate,” he said, adding that Mr. Gray’s opponent, incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, “waited too long to reach out to constituents.” Of the Fenty campaign, he said, “He has people running everything for him, and they never let you near him.”

Calls to the Gray campaign and Mr. Gray’s council office about how Mr. Jones - who is known for his organizational skills - got involved with the campaign produced more questions than answers.

Mr. Gray doesn’t know a Cornell Jones,” said campaign spokeswoman Traci Hughes, who confirmed only that the chairman had attended the picnic. “He doesn’t know who that is.”

Then the campaign stopped returning calls and refused to answer detailed questions sent by e-mail and text.

When asked to confirm reports that Mr. Gray met with Mr. Jones and asked for his support in the District’s lower-income communities, Gray council spokeswoman Doxie McCoy replied by e-mail: “The chairman has not met with Mr. Jones. Jones sought a meeting with our office to discuss the subject of getting more construction jobs for D.C. residents. As a result, a staff member met with him in the spring off-site at his job-training program on that issue.”

A day later, however, Ms. McCoy said by e-mail: “Upon further investigation, no one in the chairman’s office has met with Cornell Jones, including Chairman Gray. The person I cited who met with staff to discuss a job-training program has a similar name. Sorry for the mis-identification.”

By Wednesday - after a week in which he did not respond to multiple phone messages from The Times - Mr. Jones sent several text messages appearing to retract his lengthy comments, saying he had never met or spoken with Mr. Gray.

“I DO NOT WORK 4 THE GRAY CAMPAIGN,” he wrote in a text message. “I have always supported MAYOR FENTY, ASK HIM.”

The Fenty campaign did not return calls for comment.

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