- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s attorney accused members of the media and critics on Thursday of engaging in a “rush to judgment” over Mr. Gray’s responsibility for an off-the-books scheme that injected about $650,000 into his 2010 campaign and places his political future in doubt.

Mr. Gray has remained silent on issues at the heart of a federal probe into his campaign on the advice of his attorney, Robert S. Bennett. In the meantime, his approval ratings are suffering as the shadow campaign scandal crests and falls with a steady trickle of damning court appearances by aides who were supposed to propel his political career, yet drove it to the brink of collapse.

Mr. Bennett defended the mayor in a strongly worded statement Thursday morning, hours after Mr. Gray’s constituents had the chance to digest the results of a poll commissioned by The Washington Post that shows 54 percent of city residents think he should resign.

“Mayor Gray is being treated very unfairly by some in the media and those with their own political agendas,” Mr. Bennett said.

He criticized both entities for failing to focus on Mr. Gray’s achievements in office, a point the mayor himself has made in recent comments while declining to answer questions about the shadow campaign.

“There is a rush to judgment based on speculation and a presumption of guilt,” Mr. Bennett said. “He has not been charged with anything, much less convicted.”

Mr. Gray’s supporters hammered home that point during a rally outside the John A. Wilson Building on Wednesday. The event, organized by a pair of D.C. pastors, encouraged a “sober” and patient view of the investigation in lieu of inflicting more “trauma and drama” on the city.

Yet the poll offers a grim picture for Mr. Gray. Many residents feel the city is headed in the wrong direction, and Mr. Gray’s critics are from diverse backgrounds. According to the poll, 48 percent of black respondents — arguably from Mr. Gray’s base — think he should resign.

Three D.C. Council members have called on Mr. Gray to step down, citing the distraction of the scandal and the unlawful financial benefit he obtained, whether he knew it or not, in his bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Suspicion of underhanded dealings by members of the Gray campaign have dogged the mayor’s first term but accelerated this month when Gray supporter Eugenia C. Harris confirmed in federal court that she managed unreported campaign funds and straw donations on behalf of a powerful city contractor.

She is among three Gray campaign operatives have pleaded guilty to offenses stemming from the 2010 mayoral bid. Several other people, who have not been named, have been implicated but not charged.

Prosecutors say officials in the Gray camp coordinated with others who ran a secret “shadow” campaign during the 2010 election season that purchased materials and funded get-out-the-vote efforts in targeted areas of the city. The shadow campaign was funded with about $650,000 widely believed to have been provided by prolific campaign donor Jeffrey E. Thompson, who owned companies that conducted millions of dollars of business with the city. On a separate but closely related track, prosecutors also say some Gray donors were reimbursed for thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in an effort to bypass legal limits on funding. That scheme also is widely believed to have been funded by Mr. Thompson.

The mayor initially denied any knowledge of the illegal efforts and more recently has declined to discuss them.

Mr. Bennett said he advised Mr. Gray not to comment on the case “out of respect for the U.S. Attorney’s investigation.”

“Nevertheless,” he said, “you should not disregard the presumption of innocence, to which all Americans are entitled, including Mayor Gray.”

Mr. Gray has maintained a business-as-usual stance amid the turmoil. His schedule on Thursday included the released of a report on HIV/AIDS in the District and the signing of a bill that provides tax breaks to e-commerce businesses like LivingSocial.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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