- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2013

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray ended weeks of speculation Monday by announcing he will run for re-election against a crowded field of Democrats amid an ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign.

Ten others, including four sitting D.C. Council members, are already running in a primary race in which ethics has emerged as a principle campaign issue in large part because of the scandal surrounding the mayor.

But Mr. Gray on Monday insisted he has broad public support to seek another term.

“There are lots of people who have prevailed upon me to do this,” Mr. Gray told reporters after filling out paperwork at the D.C. Board of Elections headquarters in Northwest on Monday afternoon — about the same time a Gray 2014 campaign website went live online. “I really think that people feel that the city is going in the right direction.”

Mr. Gray will have until Jan. 2 to collect the 2,000 signatures needed to secure a spot on the April primary ballot.

Despite a pledge to create jobs and top-notch education facilities and increase public safety across all wards, the mayor’s first term has been dominated by the 2010 scandal. Questions about what happened during the campaign and what Mr. Gray did or did not know about it, have swirled around him since the start of his term and will continue to bob to the surface.

Within hours of the announcement, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and a candidate for mayor, issued a blistering statement about the mayor and the ongoing investigation.

“Vince Gray was elected under false pretenses and doesn’t deserve a second chance because he ran a corrupt campaign,” Mr. Wells said. “I’ve known Vince Gray for years and I’m disappointed that he let me down — and everyone in D.C. down.”

Another opponent, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser, also referenced the scandal.

“Now that Mayor Gray is seeking re-election, he will have to end his silence and answer the many legal questions about his 2010 campaign,” the Ward 4 Democrat said.

Prosecutors have laid out a scenario in which businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson funneled more than $650,000 in unreported contributions to the mayor’s team, funding a “shadow campaign” effort to get Mr. Gray elected.

Asked Monday about the status of the probe, William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said “the investigation into the 2010 mayoral election is continuing.”

Neither Mr. Gray nor Mr. Thompson have been charged with any wrongdoing, but four aides have pleaded guilty to criminal charges arising from the campaign and three council members have called on Mr. Gray to resign because of the scandal.

Mr. Gray has been silent on accusations at the heart of the probe but insists he ran an honest campaign.

“I think we’re trying to look ahead,” he told reporters Monday. “The opportunity now is before me to be able to continue to do this job, so I’m seizing on the opportunity.”

In a letter to supporters, Mr. Gray touted his record in office, saying his administration “created jobs, reduced unemployment, and expanded economic development in every ward.”

“We are better off today than we were just three years ago,” the mayor wrote. “I am running for reelection to build on the progress and achievements of our first term.”

But his record has been mixed, with political setbacks sprinkled among his most noteworthy accomplishments.

The mayor, who has championed D.C. voting rights at nearly every turn, spoke out against a referendum effort that gave the city budget autonomy — questioning the effort’s constitutionality before eventually asking residents to support the measure only days before the vote. The measure, which passed overwhelmingly and is expected to take effect next month, could prove critical to keeping the city government open in the face of another federal government shutdown.

Mr. Gray also successfully lobbied Wal-Mart officials to build six stores in the District — two of which are scheduled to open Wednesday. The chain originally proposed four stores, but in November 2011 committed to two more locations that the mayor billed as a much-needed job creator in a city with pockets of 20 percent unemployment.

Then the chain threatened to pull out of the stores after the council passed a bill in July that would have required Wal-Mart and other large retailers to pay employees the equivalent of $12.50 per hour in wages and benefits.

Mr. Gray said the bill would be a “job-killer” and vetoed it over the objections of labor — a constituency that was critical to his 2010 election.

Fallout with other labor unions could continue as the Wal-Mart bill opened a wider discussion on raising the minimum wage in the city.

The mayor has called for an increase in the current wage of $8.25 per hour to $10 per hour. But the D.C. Council has shown broad support for a bill that would go further, raising it to $11.50 an hour over the next three years, while activists are seeking to include a voter referendum on next year’s ballot that would raise the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour.

D.C. police union Chairman Kristopher Baumann, who supported Mr. Gray in 2010, said he was “disappointed” with the mayor’s decision to seek another term.

“We think it’s time for the city to have some leadership that isn’t tarnished,” he said.

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