As early voting began March 17 for the April 1 Democratic mayoral primary election, two recent developments are making waves in Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election campaign with a resurgence of new criticism.

Businessman Jeffrey Thompson, the focus of the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor, pled guilty March 12 to conspiracy to violate Washington, D.C. and federal campaign finance laws.

Thompson admitted to accepting illegal campaign contributions of over $650,000. According to court documents, prosecutors believe that Gray knew of these campaign contributions, even personally asking for such funds. The prosecutors believe that prior to the 2010 election, Gray gave Thompson a $425,000 budget and promised to keep the donations secret, giving Thompson the code name “Uncle Earl.”

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., who is leading the Thompson investigation, said the guilty plea allows prosecutors a new glimpse into the corruption that has historically plagued D.C. politics.

“Today’s guilty plea pulls back the curtain on years of widespread corruption,” Machen said. “With Mr. Thompson’s cooperation, we have the opportunity to hold many wrongdoers accountable and to usher in a new era of honesty, integrity and transparency in D.C. politics.”

Nevertheless, Gray has continued to assert his innocence. Although Gray admitted to meeting with Thompson and using a code name, he denied allegations that he knew of any illegal activity related to his campaign.

“I maintain these are lies,” Gray said in an interview with NBC4. “These are absolute lies.”

According to Gray, he believed Thompson had wanted to avoid a conflict with then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, who held power over many of Thompson’s city contracts.

“I thought it was because of him not wanting to be seen as legitimately raising money for my campaign out of fear of retribution,” Gray said in an interview with NBC4. “So that’s true.”

Furthermore, Gray said that he would remain in his mayoral post should federal charges be pressed against him.

“I’m not going to walk away from this situation,” Gray said in a morning television interview on ABC7.

Two days after Thompson’s guilty plea, D.C. Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large) — a sharp critic of the mayor — officially announced his mayoral bid. As an independent, Catania would face off against the Democratic nominee during the general election in November.

If successful, Catania, a councilmember since 1997 and a former Republican who left the party in 2004, could be both the District’s first white mayor and first openly gay mayor.

Following his announcement, Catania emphasized his vision for the future of the city, specifically addressing Gray’s scandal.

“This whole drama that we’ve had — this ‘Jeff Thompson-Vince Gray drama’ — the time has come for this to end,” Catania told reporters outside the elections office. “I’m talking about my vision for the city, which doesn’t include serving as a human lie detector for Jeff Thompson or Vince Gray.”

In the days following Thompson’s guilty plea, Gray’s other mayoral challengers also spoke out against the Gray administration.

“Today is a tragic day for D.C. politics and our city,” Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said in a statement. “The citizens of our great city are witnesses to a flagrant betrayal of the public trust.”

“There is no question [Gray] was elected with a corrupt campaign,” Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells said in a debate March 13 that included Bowser and fellow Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).

Evans, who has been reluctant to criticize the mayor throughout the campaign, echoed Bowser and Wells’ sentiments during Thursday’s ABC7 debate, but added that any final conclusions would need further evidence.

“The mayor is under this cloud,” Evans said. “[But] I think the mayor has the right to his day.”

Wells and Evans hope to earn a final boost prior to the April 1 election, but recent polls have them behind Bowser, with Gray still leading. Earlier this week, Wells picked up the coveted endorsements of the unions that represent the D.C. Fire and Police Departments.

Other candidates, including former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis and restaurateur Andy Shallal, are continuing their campaign efforts as early voting in the District begins.

“A vote for Reta Jo Lewis is a vote for ‘A City That Works For Everyone.’ Early voting has started. Reta Lewis is No. 3 on the ballot,” Lewis’ campaign posted on Facebook on Tuesday, along with photos of Lewis braving the cold outside the Judiciary Square Metro stop.

Dwight Kirk, Shallal’s campaign manager, said that Shallal is continuing to gain support in the wake of the Thompson allegations.

“Voters are taking a second look at all of the candidates in the wake of the Jeff Thompson guilty plea,” Kirk said. “Andy is winning over voters at every forum, every meeting, every interview with his strong voice for social justice and accountability.”

The federal investigation into the 2010 campaign remains ongoing. Gray’s attorney, Robert Bennett, told WUSA9 on Tuesday that he expects the U.S. attorney to seek an indictment against the mayor, but the mayor will fight the charges.

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