News & Politics

Vince Gray’s Campaign Blames Loss on Ron Machen

Gray’s people say allegations by admitted shadow campaign financier Jeffrey Thompson sank their boss.

Machen, center, said Jeffrey Thompson's guilty plea was the "tip of the iceberg." Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Vince Gray is blaming his loss in yesterday’s Democratic mayoral primary on the short campaign season. His campaign manager, Chuck Thies, offered a different reason, one that was likely on voters’ minds as they went to the polls.

“One thing changed this election: Ron Machen,” he said about the US attorney for the District, who is investigating businessman’s Jeffrey Thompson’s bankrolling of an illicit shadow campaign on Gray’s behalf in 2010.

After Gray had conceded and left the mostly empty ballroom in the belly of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, Thies stuck around for a while to talk to lingering reporters and help finish off the party’s supply of beer. While Thies said Gray is an “excellent sportsman” who will spend the next nine months focusing on his duties, he suggested Gray could have gotten the Democratic nomination had not Machen scheduled Thompson’s long-awaited guilty plea for March 10. In that plea, Thompson claimed he’d met with Gray in an aide’s apartment to discuss the shadow campaign. Gray denies this.

Although Gray’s job-approval ratings remained relatively strong, polls taken throughout the primary showed that voters did not find him trustworthy, especially after “Stormy Monday,” as Thies calls the day of Thompson’s plea. Between sips of a Sierra Nevada, Thies said there had been an effort to vilify Gray, following up on his earlier claims that Gray was the target of a “coordinated smear campaign” by Machen’s office, Gray’s rivals, and the media covering the primary.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Thies continued to a dwindling clutch of reporters. “Do you think Vince Gray woke up one morning and said, ‘I’ve decided I’m going to become a crook’? This campaign: no controversy; 2010: controversy because some people failed him miserably. These are facts ignored by the journalists who have left.”

Steve Glaude, who took time off from his job as Gray’s director of community affairs to serve as the reelection campaign’s political director, agreed with Thies’s assessment.

“The media never stopped illuminating 2010,” Glaude said. “If they wrote about potholes and mentioned Mayor Gray, they did two or three paragraphs on 2010.”

Glaude believes that if the primary had been held a few weeks later, as Gray lamented in his concession speech, the mayor might have rebounded.

“I do think if we had had 20 to 30 more days, it may have mattered,” Glaude said. “I think the Thompson plea killed us.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.