Saturday, 11:10 AM
Long after his motorcade is scheduled to arrive at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7, Mayor Vince Gray is still at a ribbon-cutting for the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, 12 minutes away in Fort Dupont. Steve Glaude, on leave from his job as the Gray administration’s director of community affairs so he can serve as the Gray campaign’s political director, runs back and forth across the Skyland parking lot, making sure the vehicles participating in the eventual caravan are outfitted with Gray logos. A sport-utility vehicle rigged with loudspeakers queues up a playlist composed of Chuck Brown, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder, and, of course, the latest radio ads for Gray’s re-election campaign. It looks the sky is about to open up.
In the race’s closing weeks, Gray has focused his campaign almost exclusively east of the river, largely with former mayor Marion Barry in tow. On the final, rain-drenched weekend of the campaign, the current mayor hits Ward 7, and the mayor-for-life rolls through Ward 8, following a playbook that trades computer-targeted canvassing for old-school sound trucks.
Gray finally arrives. Carl Williams, who works at Like That Barber Shop across Naylor Rd., SE, walks up to the mayor and asks him to drop in. Gray obliges and leads his entourage and media followers to the strip mall across the street. “Chuck Baby” is blasting from the sound truck.
“We got his back,” Williams says inside the barber shop as Gray works his way around every chair. “He got a good man supporting him—Marion Barry. He’s been good for the people. You gotta let him finish his work.”
After working through Like That, which is festooned with NFL memorabilia and photos of DC boxers Dusty Hernandez-Harrison and Lamont Peterson—both of whom get their hair cut there, Williams says—Gray goes a few doors down two Vision’s Hair Salon. The perfume-filled salon is less busy than the neighboring barber shop, but Gray, stuck at 27 percent in the polls with Muriel Bowser pulling even or ahead less than a week before the election, he’s desperate to churn up as much of his base east of the Anacostia River.
Twenty minutes later, Gray finally returns to the Skyland parking lot, climbs in the lead SUV, and the 10-vehicle motorcade, plus two more reporters’ cars, finally gets rolling.
The caravan stops in Stoddert Terrace, a rundown housing project in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood with a sweeping view of Northeast DC. While Gray makes door-to-door visits, the speakers blast a radio ad boasting about a recent $187 million increase in funding for low-income housing.
But some are not impressed by the mayor’s drop-in, or by any of his competitors either. “He didn’t do shit,” says a young man named Scott Thompson as he storms past the idling motorcade. “I ain’t voting for none of these people.”
On the other hand, few people are talking in Stoddert Terrace about the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign. “There’s a lot of misinformation,” says Brittney Wright, a 25-year-old DC government employee driving one of the cars in the motorcade. “He’s innocent until proven guilty. Muriel’s people ignore that fact.”
Instead, the conversations here are about economic hardship. Matthew Morton, an unemployed construction worker says Gray promised him work in 2010.
“Last two years I’ve been out of work,” Morton, 55, says. “Why should I vote for him?”
The next stop is the Benning Road Metro station, where Gray runs into a church group with members from DC and southern Maryland. Michael Barber, a pastor from Lexington, Maryland, leads a prayer as his parishioners lay their hands on the mayor’s shoulders and torso. “He’s done a fine, blessed job,” adds Sheldon Turner, a pastor at Grace Apostolic Church in Northeast.
Gray’s motorcade pulls into the parking lot of the Dorothy Height Neighborhood Library, an early-voting location for Ward 7. Pete Ross, a furniture magnate and convicted tax cheat who’s running for one of DC’s shadow senator positions, waits under a polka-dotted umbrella. As he walks toward Gray’s car, Ross, who spent $200,000 in his failed shadow senator campaign in 2012, says he plans to blow just as much this time.
“It’s a shadow campaign you can be proud of,” Ross tells the mayor, who smirks at the joke.
Gray heads into the library, where poll workers tell him he has to take off the sticker with his campaign logo before they ask him to stand for a few photographs. “I don’t distinguish campaigning from governing,” Gray says.
The caravan stops in another Lincoln Heights community, where Gray visits with Patricia Malloy, a member of the local advisory neighborhood commission. This mayoral election, the first since the Council moved the primary from September to April, has candidates bracing for an exceptionally low turnout. Only 14,000 people cast ballots during the early-voting period, compared with 22,000 in 2010.
A small electorate could help Gray, who is depending on the 27 or 28 percent of voters who decided they were for him from the start. Bowser’s chances hinge on a larger, motivated anti-incumbent groundswell.
“Regardless of what it is, he’s going to win,” Malloy says.
“Good answer,” says Gray.
Finally, the motorcade arrives at Denny’s on Benning Rd., NE, where Barry and his 17-car motorcade are waiting. Barry needs the help of two people as he gingerly sits down. Ten days after endorsing Gray, Barry is still reeling from his long hospital stay to fight off a blood infection, but he’s sharp-tounged as ever when it comes to assessing a race between his old friend Gray and Adrian Fenty protege Bowser.
“Muriel Bowser is Fenty 2,” Barry says. “Muriel would be a disaster. There’s no textbook for being mayor.”
Barry also can’t help but give himself credit for propping up the Gray campaign in the closing days. “There’s nothing but love for me,” he says. “I think everybody knows I’m a straight shooter. [Gray] has nothing but integrity.”
And for Barry, there’s nothing wrong with a strategy that focuses almost exclusively east of the Anacostia. “Washington is racially divided like most cities,” he says. “That’s not Gray’s fault. Not my fault. It’s the nature of society.”
Sunday, 11:56 AM
Jack Evans’s campaign office on 14th St., NW is a ghost town. “It’s almost snowing out there,” Evans says, walking in wearing duck boots, jeans, and a denim shirt. Evans sank to 6 percent in last week’s Washington Post poll, tied with first-time candidate Andy Shallal. Soda and snacks are piled up on tables, surrounded by thick reams of door hangers. His staff waits for volunteers to pick up canvassing packets.
Evans’s young campaign staff is there to believe there’s still a path to victory, but the candidate, who criticized Gray far less than any of the other challengers, seems to know he’s been defeated.
“I ran the campaign I wanted to run,” he says with a sigh. “Ran a real positive campaign. People told me, ‘You’d be the best mayor.’”
And in his latest agreement with Gray, Evans echoes the mayor’s criticism of Bowser.
“I don’t think she is ready,” Evans says, paraphrasing Gray’s advertising. “The mayor’s the mayor, and he’s doing a good job. What made Muriel the alternative? Was it the Washington Post?”
Evans says he has to run back to his office before he knocks on some doors himself. But he knows it’s nearly over.
“I don’t regret it,” he says. “I’d regret it if I was sitting here and had not run.”
The temperature outside has dropped into the mid-30s and the driving rain solidifying in to thick, heavy snow. But Bowser’s campaign is flush with canvassers. “How many hours?” Muriel Bowser asks her packed campaign headquarters on Georgia Ave., NW. “Fifty-two!” her supporters yell back, marking the amount of time until polls open on Tuesday.
Some present are volunteers, others signed up with the promise of $100 for a day’s work. Boxes from nearby Ledo Pizza are stacked high, while Bowser’s supporters get ready to head out with walk packets, leaflets, and photocopies of one of Bowser’s multiple Post endorsements.
Asked about the “Muriel’s Not Ready” cover that the Gray campaign put on every copy of Friday’s edition of the Washington Post Express, Bowser says, “Nobody can be surprised that a flailing campaign throws a Hail Mary.”
Bowser’s Lexus SUV pulls up to a neighborhood of detached houses in North Michigan Park in Northeast, not far from where Bowser grew up. The candidate walks down the quiet street through the fat snowflakes while a half-dozen canvassers dart between houses, calling her to sprint over when someone answers the door.
Nikki Kasparek, 31, tells Bowser she’s choosing between her and Wells, and is concerned about education as she and her wife try to start a family.
“Gray hasn’t been bad,” Kasparek says. “The scandal just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
“Anything other than Gray,” says Maegan Graham, 25. “I was through when that man passed out,” she says, referencing Medric Mills, who died in January when he had a heart attack outside a Northeast DC fire station and none of the on-duty fire fighters came to his aid.
Graham isn’t committed to any candidate other, but she’s emblematic of the anti-incumbent vote that Bowser’s team is trying to congeal.
“DC Council members select April 1 for the primary, now find themselves campaigning in the snow. Mother Nature, I like your style!” NewsChannel 8’s Bruce DePuyt writes in a snarky tweet.
“Doesn’t bother me none,” Bowser says on the way back to her office.
Tommy Wells, polling in third place, sits with a few supporters are in the basement of Fed Restaurant, an eatery and nightclub in Adams Morgan, for an event organized by a group called Unwined, which hosts politically themed happy hours. The snow and rain have finally stopped, but the place is deserted. One of the event’s organizers says over the pulsing music that it might be more happening in about an hour, and that Wells will probably stay until around 9:30.
But an hour and a half later, Wells is gone. “There wasn’t really much of a crowd,” the organizer says.
DC Council member Jim Graham had to be pulled away by one of his staff when he got in the face of Brianne Nadeau, his opponent in next week’s Democratic primary.
“I’m a public official, which you will never be,” Graham barked while wagging his finger at Nadeau in the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown DC.
Graham, 68, is running for his fifth term representing Ward 1, which includes U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Mount Pleasant. But his latest tactic suggests he could be running scared from Nadeau, a former aide to Representative John Sarbanes, who says she is giving Graham the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.
At issue is a city-backed loan Nadeau received in February 2009 when Nadeau, then a member of an advisory neighborhood commission, purchased a condominium on 14th St., NW, with the help of the District’s Home Purchase Assistance Program. Nadeau was originally approved in 2007 by the Greater Washington Urban League, which administers the loan program, but the offer expired late that year when she didn’t buy a home. Nadeau was first approved to receive $33,050, but that figure was cut by more than half in 2008 when her salary edged above $50,000, at which level the loan program lowers its awards.
When Nadeau was finally ready to make an offer but found out her loan offer had been reduced, she emailed Graham and then-Council Chairman Vince Gray for their assistance, saying the apartment she was eyeing was the only unit in her ANC district that she could afford. Graham supported her appeal for the original loan amount.
“First, let me express my strong support for Ms. Nadeau’s appeal here. Please do all you can,” he wrote to the Greater Washington Urban League on February 9, 2009.
The original loan amount came through that afternoon.
But Graham now accuses Nadeau of using her position as an ANC member to influence the loan process, and in return, Nadeau says Graham is using his office to win a close election. Last Friday, Graham, using his Council letterhead, sent a complaint about Nadeau’s loan application to the city’s Inspector General and to the Washington Post, which reported on the flap today.
“It’s a desperate move,” Nadeau said in front of the Starbucks coffee shop in the hotel’s lobby. “His back is against the wall. It’s very blatant.”
Nadeau also handed out copies of the loan notifications she received from the Greater Washington Urban League. On the 2007 form, she reported an annual household income of $50,000. When she re-applied the following year, she listed her income as $55,280. Nadeau, who now works for a public relations firm, said the increase came from year-end bonuses from Sarbanes’s office and not from cost-of-living increases, which she said she declined so she could remain eligible for home-purchasing assistance.
Loans issued under the Home Purchase Assistance Program defer payments for five years, and are then payable over 40 years without interest. (Incidentally, Nadeau said she made her first payment today.) But Nadeau got her loan at a time when the program, like most city operations, had its budget slashed. Even outside of lean times, the loan program prioritizes low-income, elderly, handicapped, or displaced DC residents ahead of others.
Graham, sitting inside the coffee shop, said Nadeau’s defense rings similarly to the fall of former Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud after inflating his income on a loan application and served six months house arrest in 2012. “Kwame Brown inflated his income, Brianne Nadeau deflated it,” Graham said. “This is probably more serious than just a lost election.”
But Graham squirmed when asked if his complaint was politically motivated, claiming he is only a public official investigating possible wrongdoing by one of his constituents. When asked if he had filed similar complaints about anyone else in the past five years, Graham could not come up with a single example. He is also focused on the fact that Nadeau’s email signature in 2009 included her position as a neighborhood commissioner, but she said that was a standard insert on all of her correspondence then.
“Anyone who thinks ANCs have that kind of influence is mistaken,” she said.
Graham exited the Starbucks to find Nadeau waiting, and the rivals launched into a heated argument that culminated in the finger-wagging moment. There are no public polls for DC’s ward races, but Nadeau said her internal polling shows a neck-and-neck race. Not surprisingly, she dismissed Graham’s suggestion that he was merely acting as a concerned Council member when he contacted the Inspector General.
“Has he ever done this to another constituent or just a political opponent?” Nadeau asked. But Graham was unavailable to comment on that one, having stormed off after the finger-wagging moment.
A Washington Post poll released Tuesday further confirms that the Democratic primary in the DC mayoral race is a contest between Vince Gray and Muriel Bowser. Thirty percent of likely voters surveyed say they plan to vote for Bowser, while 27 percent say they are pulling for Gray, a statistical tie a week before the primary.
The poll, taken last week, shows continued momentum for Bowser and little movement for Gray when the campaigns are burning through their cash reserves. The Post’s last poll, taken in late January, showed Gray with the support of 28 percent of likely voters and the other seven candidates in the low double digits or below.
Since then, Bowser has emerged as the candidate with the best shot to defeat the incumbent, especially in the wake of businessman Jeffrey Thompson’s admission earlier this month that he bankrolled an off-the-books “shadow campaign” to help elect Gray in 2010. Federal prosecutors now allege that Gray had knowledge of the scheme.
Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, said last week that his client is the victim of a “coordinated smear campaign” orchestrated by US Attorney Ron Machen’s office and the media, but according to the Post’s poll, three-quarters of likely voters believe Machen has conducted his investigation fairly, while 62 percent believe the accusation that Gray knew about Thompson’s illegal contributions.
Bowser performed well across several demographic groups in the new Post poll, leading among female voters, college graduates, and voters between 50 and 64 years old. But 48 percent of all likely voters questioned say they could change their mind before next Tuesday, and of that group 32 percent are currently supporting Bowser, while 19 percent are backing Gray.
“Voters are looking for change,” says Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff. “Gray hasn’t moved since the last Washington Post poll. He has gone absolutely nowhere.”
Gray’s support continues to appear locked in. He leads Bowser for likely black voters, 40 percent to 27 percent, and has a commanding lead among voters for whom the economy is the primary issue. But the size of Gray’s voting bloc has remained consistent across several polls taken since January, and Gray has focused his campaign on driving out his base east of the Anacostia River, especially since last Wednesday when he announced his endorsement by mayor-for-life Marion Barry.
But only 12 percent of likely voters say Barry makes them more inclined to vote for Gray, while 26 percent say it makes them less inclined, and 61 percent say the endorsement makes no difference at all.
The Post poll had a bit of good news for Tommy Wells, who came in third with 14 percent of likely voters, an improvement over his 9 percent showing in last week’s Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show survey. But Jack Evans, who has raised and spent the most money in the race, sank to 6 percent, tied with first-time candidate Andy Shallal.
The poll also included a hypothetical match-ups for Bowser and Gray against Council member David Catania, who is running as an independent in the general election. Catania and Gray are tied at 41 percent among registered voters, while Bowser leads Catania 56 percent to 23 percent.
Catania’s campaign manger, Ben Young, notes that the Post’s sample of 1,402 registered voters was 85 percent Democratic. He also attributes Bowser’s big hypothetical lead to the fact that his candidate only entered the race two weeks ago.
“It’s not surprising that somebody who’s been campaigning full-time for a year and has spent over $1 million has a big gap,” Young says. “For the first time we have a seven-month general election. We’re prepared to run against whoever. We have a candidate who has a record, stands up for that record, and who brings a lot of passion to that job.”
Federal prosecutors now allege DC mayor Vince Gray knew businessman Jeffrey Thompson had been illegally funding his 2010 campaign. Here’s how long other big-city mayors lasted under scrutiny.
Conflict-of-interest allegations surfaced in 2009; Nagin was charged with fraud, conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering in ’13, after leaving office. Convicted February 12 on all but one count, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Accused of cronyism soon after he took office in 2010, he was arrested in 2012 by the FBI. He clung to office for weeks after his February 7 bribery conviction, until a judge ordered him removed.
Eight months after his 2012 election, female aides claimed sexual harassment. Seven weeks later, facing a recall effort, he resigned. He pleaded guilty in October and is on probation.
Elected in 2010, Ford survived a judge’s 2012 order to step down after a flap over improper gifts. Admitting he “probably” smoked crack last year cost him most of his powers, but he’s up for reelection.
This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Mayor Vince Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser are in a dead heat with 11 days to go before the April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, according to the first public poll in the DC mayoral race taken since federal prosecutors alleged Gray had a direct role in the the “shadow campaign” funded on his behalf in 2010 by businessman Jeffrey Thompson.
The poll, published by Washington City Paper and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, shows Bowser has continued to gain on Gray. Both are supported by 27 percent of likely voters. Earlier surveys showed Gray hovering around 27 or 28 percent, while Bowser has steadily moved up in polling as the race have progressed.
Gray and Bowser are the best-funded candidates in the race, with each claiming about $700,000 on hand in their March 10 fundraising report. Both campaigns say they are burning furiously through their cash on direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, and other tactics.
“It validates what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this race would come down to two people” Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff, tells Washingtonian. “When two-thirds of the city wants a new mayor, it tends to get one.”
Thompson pleaded guilty on March 10 to local and federal charges of consipiring to commit election fraud by funnelling more than $2.3 million in unreported money to help elect candidates around the country. As part of his plea, Thompson told federal prosecutors that he financed an illicit campaign to help elect Gray in 2010, and that Gray was an active participant of the operation. Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and has denied any involvment with the shadow campaign.
Since Thompson’s plea, Gray has asked voters whether they believe him and his track record or Thompson and the allegations made in his plea deal. When asked that same question in today’s poll, 48 percent of respondents said Thompson, while only 24 percent said Gray.
“That’s a clown question, bro,” says Gray’s irascible campaign manager, Chuck Thies, quoting a popular rebuke coined by Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. “How many people even know who Jeff Thompson is? Check his name ID.”
Thies says that in the days before “Stormy Monday,” as he calls the day Thompson pleaded guilty, the Gray campaign’s internal polling showed the mayor pulling ahead of the rest of the field.
“The growth we had achieved in late February, early March was impacted,” he says. “You could have said, ‘Who do you trust, Mickey Mouse or Vince Gray?’ People would have said Mickey Mouse.”
Gray's base is "unshakeable," Thies says, but it has not appeared to expand since January, when the first major public poll of the campaign also showed the mayor claiming 28 percent of likely voters.
“When did Jeff Thompson become the knight in shining armor?” Thies asks. “I thought this was the guy who spent millions to subvert democracy.” Thies says that Gray is the victim of a “coordinated smear campaign” by its competitors, the media, and the US Attorney’s office.
The other six candidates for mayor are far behind Gray and Bowser. Jack Evans drew 13 percent of likely voters, while Tommy Wells, who has made his campaign largely about the fact that he is the only elected official in the field to not have taken money from Thompson over the years, is at 9 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal is next at 7 percent, trailed by Vincent Orange at 2 percent, Reta Jo Lewis at 1 percent, and Carlos Allen at zero. Fourteen percent of voters queried were undecided.
The poll was conducted by North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling between March 13 and 16 and questioned 860 likely voters using land lines. Eighteen percent of the sample was between 18 and 45 years old, 41 percent was between 46 and 65, and 23 percent was older than 65.
Mayor Vince Gray visited Marion Barry while the mayor-for-life was laid up in Washington Hospital Center, and his concern appears to be paying off. The embattled incumbent will get the mayor-for-life’s official blessing Wednesday, a few days after Barry campaigned for Gray.
Barry will endorse Gray at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Wednesday in Southeast DC, where Gray is trying to drum up as much support as he can ahead of the April 1 Democratic primary. The announcement was supposed to be kept under wraps until just before the event, but Washington Post reporter Paul Schwartzman tweeted the news, breaking the embargo requested by Gray campaign manager and self-declared election policeman Chuck Thies.
Thies responded with a Twitter tantrum, accusing the Post of “shoddy reporting” and letting the world know he cursed out Schwartzman before
slamming downhanging up the phone. Schwartzman later apologized for blowing the embargo.
Washingtonian was able to confirm with Barry’s spokeswoman, LaToya Foster, that he will be making his mayoral endorsement on Wednesday, and Thies’s outburst aside, the announcement that Barry is siding with Gray is not terribly surprising, as Barry spent part of last weekend campaigning for Gray in Southeast, with Gray’s campaign releasing a video showing Barry speaking into a microphone telling residents to “Come on out and say hello to the mayor, Mayor Gray.”
With early voting already underway and two weeks left until the primary, Gray is trying to shore up his numbers in the wake of federal prosecutors’ allegations last week that he had a direct role in the $668,800 “shadow campaign” waged on his behalf in 2010, which businessman Jeffrey Thompson admitted to funding.
Since Thompson’s guilty plea, Gray’s campaign has asked people to decide between the mayor and “Uncle Earl,” as Thompson admitted he preferred to be called in discussions about the under-the-table money. Gray’s seven opponents have seized upon the latest twists in the three-year investigation into his 2010 campaign, especially at a debate Sunday night, which the mayor skipped.
But Barry’s actual effect on the election will be minimal. For one, his coat tails are clipped because of his age and ethical lapses. Younger voters can’t relate to him, and the general electorate has grown past his appeal.
Gray can expect Barry to solidify his base among black residents east of the Anacostia River, but these voters were already on his side and likely to punch his ticket. On the other hand, the few white voters who were considering a vote for the mayor might think twice after seeing Barry stumping for him.
“It might help solidify the mayor’s support among blacks who have been sitting on the fence,” says Phil Pannell, president of the Congress Heights Community Association in Barry’s Ward 8. “But his endorsement goes only so far, when he can’t physically back it up."
Barry, 78, got out of the hospital March 5 after a 23-day stay to be treated for blood and urinary tract infections, and now attends physical therapy sessions three times a week.
Considering the almost-nightly debates and forums to which the candidates running for DC mayor are invited, one can’t blame any of the contenders for not having perfect attendance. But Mayor Vince Gray’s absence from last night’s Washington City Paper-sponsored showdown at the Black Cat set up an evening full of “Uncle Earl” speculation from seven challengers who bashed Gray without ever having to hear a direct response.
Hosted by an alt-weekly and set in music club with a cash bar, Sunday night’s debate was sure to be rowdier than the scores of previous forums. It also came nearly a week after federal prosecutors got businessman Jeffrey Thompson to plead guilty to bankrolling numerous “shadow campaigns” for local politicians over the years, including a $668,800 scheme on Gray’s behalf in 2010 that authorities now allege Gray had a direct role in. The debate also fell on the eve of the beginning of early voting.
Gray could still win on April 1, setting up a tight race against DC Council member David Catania, who is running in the general election as an independent. But by not showing up to the Black Cat on Sunday and not really giving a reason for his absence, Gray opened himself to two hours of criticism without a chance to defend himself. Here’s what we learned:
1) This might be Muriel Bowser’s election to lose at this point.
A poll released two weeks ago by WAMU and WRC put Bowser eight percentage points behind Gray in the eight-way field, but that was before Thompson pleaded guilty. Since last Monday, the mayoral race has gone into a tailspin that has largely benefitted the Ward 4 Council member. The Washington Post editorial page has hammered Gray on a near-daily basis and re-upped its Bowser endorsement. Bowser’s campaign organization, with nearly $700,000 left in the bank, is also showing its muscle, packing last night’s capacity crowd with supporters who cheered every answer she gave.
2) By the way, Bowser would really appreciate it if Tommy Wells dropped out right now.
Before they started clawing at each other over campaign contributions from city contractors, Bowser tried buttering up Wells on multiple issues, thanking him for sponsoring the recently passed marijuana decriminalization bill and setting up one of Wells’s trademark sermons on ethics reform. The charm offensive ended when Wells used Bowser’s prompt to attack her for sponsoring a 2011 campaign finance bill that he feels did not go far enough in limiting contributions from contractors and other corporate entities. Bowser tried a similar tactic during a televised debate last week, and it played out the same way. It’s clear that Bowser, as the strongest challenger to Gray, is trying to finally take the lead by cutting into Wells’s argument about good government. But don’t count on Wells quitting with two weeks to go.
3) Even if he wins, Gray won’t have the support of a united Democratic Party against Catania, a former Republican.
WRC’s Tom Sherwood opened the debate wishing he could ask Gray a question. With that proving impossible, he instead asked the seven candidates in attendance if they would support Gray as the Democratic nominee. Only Jack Evans, Vincent Orange, and Carlos Allen said they would, and of those three, Evans is the only one with any significant support, although he is running in third place in recent polls. Bowser, Wells, Reta Jo Lewis, and Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal said they would not line up behind Gray.
4) Marijuana makes candidates say the damnedest things.
With the DC Council having just passed a marijuana decriminalization bill and activists trying to get a legalization question on the November ballot, the candidates were asked how they feel about pot reform. Some of their answers were, well, a little strangely baked. Long-shot candidate Lewis gave the weirdest answer of the night with this gem: “We should stop and think, do we want kids with all the problems they have to be smelling of smoke? What about the seniors who live in apartments who would be subject to the smell of drugs in their homes?” And Bowser said that while she supports the “private use of marijuana among consenting adults,” her support does not extend to “big marijuana festivals.”
5) Uncle Earl is here to stay.
Shallal was the first candidate to reference the code name Thompson wanted Gray and his associates to call him by in order to mask his support of Gray’s first mayoral campaign, but plenty of audience members shouted it out, too. The allegations read by prosecutors at Thompsons plea hearing last week are going to dominate the rest of this campaign. Wells said that in getting Thompson to sing, US Attorney Ron Machen “laid out a scheme that would make House of Cards blush.” Thompson’s shadow campaigns might not have been as bloody as Frank Underwood’s machinations, but they have given followers of city politics an unforgettable pop reference. Ron Moten, a anti-youth violence activist and Adrian Fenty loyalist, roamed the crowd selling out his supply of Uncle Earl-branded T-shirts and cap. (There were no Uncle Earl sweatshirts.) And when City Paper columnist Will Sommer asked the candidates the question Gray himself has been spouting—”Who do you believe? Vince Gray or Jeffrey Thompson?”—no one sided with the mayor. Even Orange, who matches the description of one of the candidates who enjoyed Thompson’s under-the-table largesse, said he believes Thompson’s guilty plea. The closest bit of support Gray got on that front was a milquetoast answer from Allen, who said “let the courts decide.” But judging from the Black Cat crowd, voters will be deciding that sooner.
Finding the winners in Jeffrey Thompson’s plea deal is not easy: In court this week, Thompson pleaded guilty to a rash of 2010 campaign-finance violations that implicated, by description if not by name, everyone from DC mayor (and mayoral candidate) Vincent Gray to bit players in Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential run. The losers—including Vince Gray, Michael Brown, who comes off as the slimiest politician we have, and the voters—are easier to figure. A roundup of who gains:
He admitted corrupting the 2010 mayoral race with $660,000 in dirty cash and secretly contributing more than $3 million to two dozen local and federal campaigns between 2006 and 2012, but he cut a sweet deal with federal prosecutors. In return for ratting out Mayor Gray and fingering other DC politicians, Thompson will likely never serve a day behind bars. Prosecutors waived the 18 months he might have served on the federal charges, and odds are he gets house arrest for the six-month term on the DC charges. Thompson’s goal was never to set foot in jail, and he might have nailed it.
The US Attorney finally implicated Gray in his three-year probe into corrupt DC elections. In Thompson, Machen has notched his eighth public-corruption plea from District probes, taking out three DC Council members and four Gray campaign aides. But for Machen to score a true victory, he and his investigators have to build a case based on documents and evidence that will force Gray to accept a plea.
“Anyone but Gray”
Democratic candidates for Gray’s office have already been all but sporting “Not the mayor” campaign buttons. Though Gray is not out of the race, and still has high approval ratings, his support in African-American wards east of the Anacostia River is eroding. Undecided voters will be looking for a new favorite among the leading alternatives: Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, and Tommy Wells.
David Catania goes all in by declaring his candidacy as an Independent running in the general election. After a Democratic primary season that lacked leadership, inspiration, and issues, the at-large council member could bring all three to the November vote, the first truly competitive general election under Home Rule. He has the best chance of beating Gray one-on-one.
The Washington Post
Jo-Ann Armao and her editorial page look smart in their crusade against Gray. After Machen tied Gray to the corrupt cash, Armao pounded Gray with caustic editorials for three days. But will the Post’s diatribes and endorsement of Bowser knock off the mayor and make her the Democratic nominee? If not, the Post will look weak and ineffectual.
If Machen builds a stronger case in the next nine months, Gray might be forced to resign. Under DC laws of succession, that would make council chair Phil Mendelson DC’s first white mayor, temporarily.
Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign manager and self-declared election cop Chuck Thies has a new demand for the District’s mayoral election: No more nicknames. Thies is apparently sick of being asked about “Uncle Earl,” a name that prosecutors allege Mayor Vince Gray called businessman Jeffrey Thompson in order to keep his 2010 support Gray under wraps and that the mayor himself admits he used.
“When did using a nickname become evidence of breaking the law?” he says. “It’s a made-for-Twitter moment brought to you by Jeff Thompson.”
Thompson revealed the soubriquet on Monday when he pleaded guilty to hatching multiple election fraud schemes, including a 2010 plot in which he spent $668,800 to elect Gray without reporting a cent of it to campaign finance authorities. Sure enough, a fictional @UncleEarlDC Twitter account started up on Monday before Thompson even finished entering his plea, and some of Gray’s competitors in the April 1 Democratic primary are now using Thompson’s alias to attack the mayor.
In making their accusation that Gray had direct involvement in the “shadow campaign,” federal prosecutors at Thompson’s hearing said Gray and Thompson had dinner in August 2010, with Gray presenting Thompson with a $425,000 budget for get-out-the-vote operations ahead of his showdown with then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. According to prosecutors, Gray ended the conversation by saying, “Thank you, uncle.”
According to Thompson’s statement of offense, Gray and his campaign associates agreed to call Thompson “Uncle Earl”—Earl is Thompson’s middle name—to avoid publicizing his support for Gray’s mayoral bid.
Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but in an interview he gave shortly after Thompson pleaded guilty, the mayor said he called the businessman by the name.
“I thought it was because of him not wanting to be seen as legitimately raising money for my campaign,” Gray told WRC reporter Tom Sherwood. “That’s true. But there was never any illicit secrecy associated with that.”
However, Thies says the Uncle Earl mania is setting a dangerous precedent. In fact, Thies suggests DC politicians and their associates only use proper names going forward.
“I’m afraid to use nicknames,” says the seasoned political operative, whose legal name is Charles Thies, Jr. “My mother is complicit in a crime because she’s been calling me Chuck for 49 years? Good lord.”
DC Council member David Catania doesn’t think being a white, non-Democrat will dissuade people from voting for him for mayor in this years general election, he said after filing his candidacy for an independent bid.
“This is a city that belives in the value of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness, and playing by the rules,” Catania said. “These are the values we all share.”
Eight Democratic candidates, including Mayor Vince Gray, are scrambling toward the April 1 Democratic primary, which in past years has served as the effective general election. But with another seven months until the real general election and more than 15 years as an at-large member of the Council, Catania’s entry into the race raises the possibility of giving DC its first competitive mayoral general election in 20 years.
“The others have talked a good game and good for them for having labels, but I’ve actually delivered,” Catania said about the Democratic field. Catania is a former Republican who left the party in 2004 over President George W. Bush’s support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
During his tenure on the DC Council, Catania has run the committees overseeing the District’s health services and, since last year, its public schools. A video released by his campaign Wednesday morning highlights his involvment in keeping United Hospital Center, the city’s only hospital east of the Anacostia River, open. He told reporters that his school oversight played a major role in pushing him into the race.
“It was an incredibly important factor,” he said. “It inspired seven or eight landmark pieces of legislation. If we’re electing leaders, rather than administrators, I think it’s time for people to look at the record.”
Catania repeatedly referred to Gray as an “administrator” instead of a leader, arguing that Gray inherited an improving city from former mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty. That’s a charge Gray attempted to fend off last night in his State of the District address, but Catania, addressing reporters at the corner of 14th and U streets, NW, near several new high-end apartment buildings, said it fits.
“I think our city is growing in spite of the mayor, not because of the mayor,” he said. “The mayor has tended a garden that was planted by those before him. I don’t think any of these cranes are traced to the work of Vincent Gray.”
Catania, who created an exploratory committee in December, added that he made his decision to officially enter the race before Monday, when businessman Jeffrey Thompson pleaded guilty to financing a $668,800 “shadow campaign” on Gray’s behalf in 2010 and prosecutors alleged that Gray had direct involvement in the scheme.
“I’ve made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed two years ago,” Catania said. “I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.”
A January poll taken by the Washington Post showed that in a hypothetical matchup, Gray had a slim lead over Catania.
Catania acknowledged taking money from Thompson in some of his Council races, but the two had a falling out after 2006 over city payments to Chartered Health Plan, a Thompson-owned firm that formerly handled DC’s $300 million Medicaid contract. But Catania has his own history with the city’s contracting process. Until January 2013, he had a job with the technology consulting firm MC Dean, which is one of the District government’s biggest contractors. Catania said his role with the firm focused mostly on its contracts with the Defense Department, and that he always recused himself when a city contract with MC Dean came before the Council.
“If anyone can ever find an example of where I voted to advance MC Dean or had a communication with anyone in the District government that advanced MC Dean, I’ll drop out of this race tomorrow,” Catania said. “But you’re not going to find it because it never happened.”
Catania also addressed his sometimes prickly relationships with his fellow Council members. In 2012, for instance, he got in an argument with Marion Barry that heated to the point where Catania told the mayor-for-life, “Fuck you, Marion.”
“We’re not cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches,” Catania told reporters. “This is about running a $12 billion organization, where the lives of 645,000 people depend on someone being honest and being faithflu to those values and visions. I’m not going to apologize for the passion I take to this job. I feel most of our citizens are outraged.”