Three D.C. Council members called on embattled Mayor Vincent C. Gray to resign on Wednesday, mere hours after the mayor defended his reputation in the wake of startling revelations about a "shadow" effort by members of his 2010 campaign.
David A. Catania, Mary M. Cheh, and Muriel Bowser became the first city leaders to argue Mr. Gray is no longer entitled to the highest local office in the District because of underhanded deeds committed during his bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
"I've been trying to decide, 'What possible explanation is there that would exonerate him from this?'" said Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat who deemed the decision "absolutely" more heart-wrenching than calling on former council member Harry Thomas Jr. to resign for stealing public funds. "I had come to admire (Mr. Gray) greatly. This is a hard one. I'm going to go home and cry."
Ms. Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat who authored the city's recently passed comprehensive ethics reform law, said the mayor's legal troubles were creating a distraction and that he should step down for the good of the city. She said the ongoing investigation has exposed "tremendously outrageous conduct."
"If you have a $1.2 million campaign, a $600,000 infusion is hard to miss," she said.
Mr. Catania, at-large independent, said the mayor should resign and that it does not matter whether Mr. Gray knew about the off-the-books effort or not.
"The legitimacy of the election was called into question," he said through a spokesman. "He should not be beneficiary of that illegality. He should step down immediately for the good of the District and its residents."
Mr. Gray's spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, dismissed the comments in an email.
"This is the kind of irresponsible talk we've come to expect from [council member] Catania," he said. "It's disappointing however that a constitutional scholar of [council member] Cheh's caliber would call for a resignation before an investigation is complete."
Hours earlier, Mr. Gray deflected the most pressing questions about a startling admission in federal court on Tuesday that conspirators fed at least $653,800 in unreported cash to pay for supplies and consultants on behalf of Mr. Gray, whether he knew it or not.
"This is not the campaign that we intended to run," Mr. Gray said at his biweekly press conference. "I got into this for the right reasons."
Mr. Gray is facing intense pressure to speak out after Jeanne C. Harris, a 75-year-old Gray donor and campaign operative, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy and obstruction charges for managing straw donations and unreported campaign expenditures on behalf of a D.C. businessman who wanted to see Mr. Gray elected to protect his contracts with the city. The pair then tried to cover up the scheme, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say Harris used one of her companies as a pass-through for hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Gray campaign for Nextel radios, yard signs, T-shirts and other supplies that bore the logos of the official campaign and were purchased from the same vendors. All of the money came from an unnamed co-conspirator, widely believed to be Jeffrey E. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson is the owner of an accounting firm and holds a lucrative managed-care contract with the District through D.C. Chartered Health. He is attempting to sell Chartered, since the city government has made it clear they no longer want to do business with him.
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