News & Politics

Former DC Mayor Vince Gray Is Running for the DC Council

Former DC Mayor Vince Gray announced his DC Council bid in February. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Former DC Mayor Vince Gray, who was defeated in his 2014 re-election bid amid a Justice Department investigation into his first mayoral campaign, will return to District politics by running for the Ward 7 seat on the DC Council. Gray, 73, made his decision public Thursday on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.

“I’ve made a decision I’m going to run for the Ward 7 seat,” Gray said. “Ward 7 is home. I’ve lived in Ward 7 for a very long time.”

Gray lost the 2014 Democratic Party primary to now-Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose campaign focused on the corruption scandal that emerged from his successful 2010 campaign, which was aided by $668,800 in unreported contributions furnished by local businessman Jeffrey “Uncle Earl” Thompson. Federal prosecutors led by US Attorney Ron Machen started unraveling the so-called “shadow campaign” shortly after Gray took office, getting guilty pleas from several of Gray’s longtime political associates. Thompson pleaded guilty three weeks before the primary, with prosecutors naming Gray in open court as the beneficiary of his illegal largesse, a turn that all but secured Bowser’s win.

Throughout the investigation, Gray maintained his innocence. Machen returned to private practice last March, leaving many District residents thinking he had interfered in a local election without ever getting his man. Machen’s successor announced last December that the Justice Department would end its probe without any additional charges, effectively clearing Gray, who spent some of his post-Wilson Building time at Howard University, to return to public life. There still could be fallout to come from 2010, though—on Monday, a District government audit of Gray’s 2010 campaign found it kept incomplete records of donations and its payments to staff.

Gray got his start on the DC Council in 2004 when he was elected to represent Ward 7 on the Council. In seeking his old seat, which encompasses the District’s eastern end, Gray will be going up against Yvette Alexander, who succeeded him when he was elected to the Council’s chairmanship in 2006. Alexander was the first local elected official to throw her support to Gray when he announced his 2014 re-election campaign, but it sounds as though Gray has soured on his old protege since then, saying she has faltered on constituent services in Ward 7’s neighborhoods.

“Her office hadn’t been responsive,” Gray said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. “I think something would have happened no matter what. There were people who were read to make a change.”

Alexander’s seat also appeared more vulnerable. A poll last month commissioned by a political-action committee founded by Gray’s 2014 campaign manager, Chuck Thies, found that Gray held a 16 percentage point lead over Alexander in a hypothetical matchup. Gray had a smaller lead in the race for the other seat he was reportedly considering, with a 12-point advantage over at-large Council member Vincent Orange.

On the Kojo show, Gray said Thies would be his new campaign’s treasurer, but not manager. Thies, a voluble presence in DC politics, has been spotted around town recently with a custom baseball cap reading “Make DC Gray Again,” a riff on the “Make America Great Again” hats popularized by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But Thies says his hat is “just for shits and giggles,” not a piece of mass-produced campaign merchandise.

In a press conference in WAMU’s office following his on-air appearance, Gray told reporters he isn’t running to get back at Bowser, whom he criticized on several fronts, especially Walmart’s recent decision to cancel plans to build two stores in Ward 7 that Gray gotten the retailer to agree to while he was Mayor.

“There’s no way I would do this to seek retribution,” he said.

In fact, Gray’s sharpest words both on- and off-air were directed toward Walmart, which announced last month amid a nationwide downsizing it would not build stores in Ward 7, which lacks food and retail options. “It was a dastardly act to do to the people of the District of Columbia,” he said. “Folks on the east end got shafted.”

Gray also expressed some disappointment in Bowser’s handling of DC’s homicide rate, which spiked 50 percent last year, and her approach to citywide development, again touching on Walmart. He also gave positive mentions to Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who has been mentioned as a potential future mayoral candidate. Alexander has not commented on her one-time mentor’s decision to challenge her.

If there were any sour grapes to be found at Gray’s comeback launch, they were directed toward Machen. The former mayor was asked if he had learned anything from his 2014 defeat

“I’ve learned the US attorney’s office,” he started, before cutting himself off.

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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.