- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mayor Vincent C. Gray defended his integrity and the reputation of his administration on Wednesday in his first public comments since federal prosecutors outlined a politically damaging “shadow” effort by members of his 2010 campaign.

Mr. Gray, facing a bevy of TV cameras and reporters at his biweekly press briefing, 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. “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 will remain in office by saying, “I have no plans to do otherwise.”

The mayor delivered his personal defense in front of dozens of onlookers in an unusual setting — an alley east of the Anacostia River, where he unveiled an environmentally friendly type of porous concrete that should reduce run-off pollution.

“I never expected to see so many people in an alley in Ward 7,” he said with a smile.

But sustainability efforts were not the topic of the hour. From the moment Mr. Gray’s entourage pulled up in a Lincoln Navigator, it was clear he would have to address the game-changing court appearance of Jeanne Harris, a Gray donor and campaign operative who admitted she arranged straw donations and unreported campaign expenditures on behalf of a D.C. businessman who wanted to see Mr. Gray elected to protect his lucrative contracts with the city.

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.

Court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office say members of the Gray campaign told Harris and her unnamed co-conspirator in July 2010 that the campaign needed money.

“I actually thought we had raised a lot of money, to tell you the truth,” Mr. Gray said, when asked Wednesday to provide his opinion on the campaign’s financial status at the time. “It was a very short campaign.”

He said any checks received by the campaign would be turned in to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, but noted it is “just not possible” for a candidate to sit down and personally review every contribution that comes into the campaign’s coffers.

Harris is the third Gray campaign operative to plead guilty to criminal charges, after a pair of staffers admitted they paid a minor mayoral candidate to stay in the race so he could verbally attack incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Harris faces 30-37 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice, although she could face less time by cooperating with authorities.

“I’ve known Jeannie for a long time and I feel very badly about this, but at the same time I am concerned about what may or may not have happened in this campaign and certainly the appearance of what may have happened,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray rejected suggestions that he is unable to lead the city and continue his efforts to gain full voting rights in Congress for the District.

“I get up every morning and look in the mirror and see someone I respect,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray said he probably could have stayed on as council chairman or left city politics, but he ran for mayor “because I love the District of Columbia, I’m a native Washingtonian.”

A vigorous defense of his character notwithstanding, Mr. Gray reluctantly fell back on the boilerplate responses he has used to deflect questions about the ongoing probe.

“I would like to comment on all of this, to be honest with you,” Mr. Gray said. “This investigation is continuing … obviously there is additional information that is unfolding. I think many of you will remember that more than a year ago I was the one who called for an investigation into my own campaign.”



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