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For D.C. Mayor Gray, ‘what did he know and when?’

He remains mum in face of ‘shadow campaign’ revelations

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Thursday said the swirl of suspicion around an off-the-books effort during his 2010 campaign is "as frustrating for me as it is for others."

Mr. Gray is facing heightened scrutiny as damning court evidence and revealing news reports tug at his justification for staying in office - ignorance of a scheme that unlawfully injected $650,000 into his campaign.

The mayor said he is not going to ignore his attorney's advice to stay mum about the ongoing probe as pressure mounts for him to give a full accounting of what he knew about the secret effort and when he knew it.

Three city lawmakers on Wednesday asked the mayor to resign in light of evidence outlined in federal court that confirmed the existence of a "shadow campaign" financed by one of the city's most influential contractors. But D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson implored his colleagues late Wednesday to allow the investigation to continue before demanding Mr. Gray's resignation.

Mr. Gray said Thursday he reached out to various council members.

Mr. Gray said the comments by council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, did not surprise him, but added he was puzzled by council member Mary M. Cheh's decision. Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, supported Mr. Gray during the campaign, while Mr. Catania and Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, supported incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

"My question [for Ms. Cheh] would be, 'Why did you do that?' " Mr. Gray said. "You're a constitutional lawyer. People are innocent until they are proven guilty; they aren't guilty until they're proven innocent. So I really don't understand it, but we'll get a chance to talk at some stage."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting member of Congress, said Mr. Gray is a longtime friend, but the conduct outlined in court papers is "deeply disturbing."

"Mayor Gray has an obligation to clear this matter up quickly," she said.

Troubles surrounding the mayor are resonating outside of city hall, although D.C. residents and commuters do not agree what should happen next.

"It would be better for him to resign," said William Scott, 41, a consultant from Falls Church who works in the District. "Unfortunately, after being well-governed, D.C. is going back to the old days. It's classic."

Dahlicia Holmes, a 46-year-old executive assistant from Northeast, said the mayor's critics should "wait and let the process go through."

"He hasn't been convicted yet. Wait until they have the hard facts," she said. But, she added, "I still don't trust any politicians."

Mr. Gray kept a normal schedule on Thursday, even swearing in members of the newly created D.C. Board of Ethics. In comments to reporters, Mr. Gray tried to empathize with residents of the District.

"This is frustrating for me as well," he told reporters as he left the John A. Wilson Building. "I think those of you who know me know I'm a very forthcoming person."

Nonetheless, new reports are turning up the heat on Mr. Gray to divulge what he knew about the conspiracy that injected more than a half-million dollars into his campaign without reporting it to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

Mr. Gray has known for months that members of his campaign spent money on his behalf without reporting it during his 2010 race, according to a report Thursday in The Washington Post.

The newspaper quoted sources as saying Jeanne C. Harris discussed the expenditures with Mr. Gray during a Jan. 10 meeting. The report quoted a source as saying Mr. Gray did not learn of the shadow effort until that month.

The Associated Press reported the Gray campaign paid day laborers $100 in cash to work at the polls, exceeding the lawful limits for cash payments while mislabeling the expenditures in campaign-finance reports as consulting fees.

Mr. Gray said he had not read the stories and could not comment on their contents because of the ongoing investigation. The "shadow campaign" was confirmed in open court on Tuesday, when Harris pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice for handling unlawful campaign payments and straw donations on behalf of a conspirator widely thought to be Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson, who has not been charged with any crimes, held contracts with the city through his accounting firm and a lucrative managed-care deal through D.C. Chartered Health.

A receptionist at the accounting firm referred to the company as "Bazilio Cobb Associates" when she picked up the phone on Thursday, dropping Mr. Thompson's name from the firm's title. A spokeswoman for the company confirmed that Mr. Thompson had sold his share of ownership to another partner in the firm.

The recent turmoil does little to help the District's efforts to gain budget autonomy and full voting rights in Congress. But if the city's federal overseers on Capitol Hill are worried about recent developments, they are not jumping at the chance to criticize city leadership.

A spokesman for Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, who has oversight of D.C. affairs, said the congressman "cannot comment on law enforcement investigations or prosecutions."

Asked about the political implications and effect on D.C. voting rights, he added: "You should reach out to Rep. Holmes Norton's office about politics in D.C. Rep. Gowdy is not interested in commenting on it."

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