Circle Closing on Mayor Vince Gray

Federal charges were brought against his political confidante Vernon Hawkins on Monday.

By: Harry Jaffe

With Monday’s federal charges against Vince Gray’s longtime political confidante Vernon Hawkins, it becomes harder to believe that Gray was unaware of the “shadow campaign” that helped elect him mayor in 2010.

Prosecutors charged Hawkins with lying to federal officials in connection with a scheme to pay off a Gray campaign worker to leave town, so the staffer could avoid speaking with FBI agents investigating the campaign. Hawkins denied knowing about the plan and the payments. The criminal information filed Monday stated that Hawkins “in truth and in fact” made the payment.

As we learned during the course of US Attorney Ron Machen’s lengthy investigation of the 2010 campaign finances, Hawkins is alleged to have coordinated the $653,000 off-the-books operation that helped elect Gray. Machen said the election was “corrupted by a massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters of the District.”

The question hanging over the investigation is whether Gray knew of the dirty flow of cash. The mayor has been silent on the matter. Asked Monday to react to the Hawkins charge, Gray’s attorney, Robert Bennett, responded, “No comment.”

But the circle is closing in on the mayor.

Hawkins is the fourth campaign worker close to Gray who has been charged with participating in the “shadow campaign.” Three of Gray’s longtime friends—Jeanne Clarke Harris, Thomas Gore, and Howard Brooks—already have pleaded guilty to federal charges that involve their campaign activities.

DC businessman and contractor Jeffrey Thompson allegedly raised the cash for the shadow fund. Thompson, who has not been charged, also has deep ties to Vince Gray.

Hawkins and Gray go back to the 1990s in DC governing and political circles.

Hawkins was with Gray the day he announced his mayoral bid at the Reeves Center in March 2010. Hawkins had urged Gray to take on Adrian Fenty and accompanied the then-city council chair to meetings with potential donors. He was among the supporters by Gray’s side when he filed the paperwork to launch his mayoral campaign.

There’s more.

In 2004, Gray hired Hawkins to help run his successful campaign to represent Ward 7 on the city council, Gray’s first foray into elective politics. Hawkins volunteered on Gray’s 2006 run to chair the city council.

Gray ran the DC Department of Human Services in the 1990s under Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. Gray handed over the department to Hawkins, who ran the agency when Marion Barry was elected mayor for the fourth time. The federal financial control board accused Hawkins of mismanaging the department and forced Barry to fire him in 1996.

In effect, Gray helped resurrect Hawkins in DC political circles.

Hawkins is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, where he is expected to plead guilty to the single count of lying to federal officials. As part of his plea, it’s likely that he will have to cooperate with the investigation. The three campaign officials who have pled are also cooperating, along with many other campaign workers.

There’s always the chance that not one of Gray’s friends and staffers mentioned the “shadow campaign” to him. With Vernon Hawkins talking, the chances got very slim.