Three D.C. Council members called on embattled Mayor Vincent C. Gray to resign Wednesday, just hours after he defended his integrity in his first public comments since federal prosecutors outlined a politically damaging “shadow” effort by members of his 2010 campaign.
David A. Catania, Mary M. Cheh and Muriel Bowser became the first city leaders to argue that Mr. Gray is no longer entitled to the highest 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 Harry Thomas Jr. to resign from the council 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.”
Mr. Gray, facing a bevy of TV cameras and reporters at his biweekly press briefing Wednesday, deflected the most pressing questions about the startling revelations laid bare in federal court Tuesday. Prosecutors said 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. “I got into this for the right reasons.”
A day after the city’s top prosecutor said publicly that the 2010 campaign was “compromised,” Mr. Gray answered questions about whether he would remain in office by saying, “I have no plans to do otherwise.”
But Ms. Bowser, the Ward 4 Democrat who authored the city’s recently enacted 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.
“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.”
While Mr. Gray acknowledged there were misdeeds by his campaign surrogates, he challenged anyone to criticize his administration’s performance.
“That’s why I wanted to make a distinction between the campaign, which we knew there are issues with, and governing,” he said.