A diverse gathering of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray's supporters raised their voices —and their megaphones — in prayer and song at a rally in front of city hall on Wednesday, evoking religious teachings and the right to due process to defend a man who has been labeled either an election-swindler or an innocent victim of his surrogates' sins.
Dozens of clergymen, civic leaders and everyday citizens packed the sidewalk in front of the steps of the John A. Wilson Building to decry what they view as a rush to judgment against Mr. Gray, who faces persistent questions about roughly $650,000 in unreported funds that a city contractor injected into a shadow campaign on Mr. Gray's behalf in 2010, according to federal prosecutors.
Mr. Gray has been silent about the key portions of the ongoing investigation into his effort to unseat incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, although he has defended the integrity of his campaign and administration. His supporters rebuked the sources of a steady drip of unfavorable news about the mayor, from the U.S. Attorney's Office to the mass media.
"If you look at anything hard enough or long enough, you will be able to find something wrong," said the Rev. Willie Wilson, of the Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast.
While impassioned at times, the rally also called for calm and unity as city leaders attempt to build on the District's good fortunes as a flourishing city in the face of uncertain economic times around the country.
"It's not about separate cities, it's about one city," said organizer Rev. Graylan Hagler, of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast, echoing Mr. Gray's "One City" mantra.
Wiping away the sweat from their brows in oppressive late-morning heat, rally participants insisted that Mr. Gray's critics are not showing the patience that they, themselves, would demand in the face of adversity. Three council members and a smattering of political groups have called on Mr. Gray to resign, citing the investigation's potential harm to the city and the fact he benefited from illegal activity.
Attendees at the rally, who either know the mayor personally or happen to support him from afar, held side conversations in which they debated the key question surrounding the Gray investigation — what did the mayor know about surreptitious efforts on his behalf? Three of his campaign aides have pleaded guilty to making underhanded payments during the campaign, either to pay minor mayoral candidates Sulaimon Brown to continue attacks on Mr. Fenty or to purchase materials without reporting the expenditures to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
Despite signs the federal probe is coming to a head, Mr. Gray is entitled to the mayor's office until the investigation has been completed, supporters said.
"If everyone could be arrested for things they are associated with, we'd be locking up everyone," said Jeri Hughes, a Petworth resident who supported Mr. Gray because he stood up for the transgender community. "The truth will set you free. The truth is Vincent Gray is a man of integrity."
Rev. Hagler said he was pleased that an array of people, including members of the D.C. Latino Caucus, showed up for the rally. He said that diversity was more important to him than quantity.
The event was supposed to be a press conference by clergy. But when word of it hit social media websites, "it began to take on a different life" and attracted significant media attention.
Rev. Hagler said city hall observers should think of the city and Mr. Gray's administration — not just political football.
"People forget that there are all kinds of people involved and there are residents involved," he said.
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