- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2016

Former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Thursday that he will run for the Ward 7 seat on the D.C. Council this year, setting up a June 14 Democratic primary showdown with his former protege, council member Yvette Alexander.

Mr. Gray’s announcement ended months of speculation about his political future after a nearly five-year federal corruption investigation of his 2010 mayoral campaign closed in December with several convictions of his former associates but no charges against him.

“It really came down to where I thought I could do the most good,” he said Thursday at a press conference immediately after his appearance on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” at WAMU studios in Northwest. “Ward 7 is home.”

Mr. Gray, who lost his 2014 re-election bid to Mayor Muriel Bowser, said he would not use the council seat as a steppingstone for another mayoral run. But political observers have said his political comeback looks a lot like that of former Mayor Marion Barry in 1992.

After having served six months in prison on a drug-related charge, Barry won the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. Council and said he had no interest in being mayor. But two years later, Barry was back on the campaign trail and became mayor again in 1995.

“I think his plan, although he won’t admit to it, is exactly similar to Barry: to serve two years in office and then run for mayor,” longtime D.C. political commentator Mark Plotkin told The Associated Press. “He is not the president of the Muriel Bowser fan club, and she is not the president of his. They really detest each other.”

Elizabeth H. Travers, a Ward 7 commissioner on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said there is still a lot of support for Mr. Gray in Ward 7. But some also question whether he knew about the $660,000 slush fund that financed a “shadow” campaign in his 2010 bid for mayor, she said.

“Some people really, really believe it, and some people don’t,” Ms. Travers said. “It should be interesting.”

At the press conference, Mr. Gray wasted no time in criticizing Ms. Alexander, a former protege who replaced him as Ward 7’s representative when he became D.C. Council chairman in 2007.

“Sadly, there’s wide dissatisfaction at this stage with the representation,” Mr. Gray said of Ms. Alexander, who has since become a political ally of Ms. Bowser. “The sentiment is that there has not been a level of responsiveness.”

Mr. Gray, 73, said residents have come to him with their problems because they can’t get answers from Ms. Alexander’s constituent services staff.

But Ms. Alexander’s staff rebuffed the former mayor’s remarks.

“Our constituents are aware of Councilmember Alexander’s track record within the ward and as the Chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services,” Denise Tolliver, Ms. Alexander’s chief of staff, said in an email. “They continue to express their appreciation and their support.”

Still, Mr. Gray said he said he feels no ill will toward Ms. Alexander and doesn’t regret endorsing her to succeed him in 2007. He said that although she showed “tremendous promise” back then, she hasn’t lived up to it.

Taking aim at both of his successors, Mr. Gray took Ms. Bowser and Ms. Alexander to task for Wal-Mart’s recent decision not to build two stores east of the Anacostia River — part of a handshake deal he secured during his administration. The retail giant built three stores in the District and agreed to build two others in Ward 7, but announced last month that it would not go ahead with the construction, citing poor sales.

The District lost potentially hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of anticipated revenue by Wal-Mart’s decision.

“You’ve got to stay on top of those things. I was very involved,” Mr. Gray said Thursday. “People felt blindsided by this. How does that happen?”

Finding and securing an anchor store to replace Wal-Mart at the Skyland Town Center in Southeast will be one of his top priorities, he said.

Ms. Bowser’s office did not return emails seeking comment.

Citing a 54 percent increase in homicides during Ms. Bowser’s first year in office, Mr. Gray said crime needs to be addressed in a different way.

He stopped short of endorsing council member Kenyan McDuffie’s crime bill that is making its way through the legislature, but did say he likes Mr. McDuffie’s approach to lowering the crime rate in the District. He called it “a positive approach” and praised a provision that would give stipends to at-risk residents who stay out of trouble.

“Anything we can do to incentivize young people to stay out of trouble should be tried,” Mr. Gray said.

He gave no definitive answer on whether he supports private pot-smoking clubs in the city, but did say he sees the benefits to medical and recreational marijuana use. The District’s marijuana legalization law took effect last February.

D.C. Council members have yet to issue any formal endorsements. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he isn’t getting involved in council races because it’s his job to work with all of his colleagues.

A poll commissioned last month by Mr. Gray’s allies, including Chuck Thies, who ran his failed re-election bid, showed Mr. Gray beating Ms. Alexander in a hypothetical primary race 48 percent to 32 percent, with 14 percent undecided and 6 percent in favor of Ed Potillo. The poll questioned 407 likely primary voters in Ward 7.

“I think if he wants to run, he should run,” said Ms. Travers, the ANC commissioner. “A lot of people still like him in Ward 7.”

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