With only seven months before the Democratic primary in April, Mayor Vincent Gray, still entrenched in an ongoing corruption investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has yet to announce plans to run for re-election.
Three high-level officials involved in Gray’s 2010 Democratic Primary victory over incumbent Adrian Fenty have pled guilty to felony charges, which involve a $650,000 off-the-book donation to Gray’s campaign. Campaign aides have also admitted to bribing a minor candidate to stay in the race in order to make the race more difficult for Fenty.
Although Gray has not yet been personally implicated, the investigation is still ongoing and additional charges are expected, NBC Washington reported, although the timeline is still uncertain. The investigation originally began in 2011.
Gray announced his plans to run 19 months before the 2010 Democratic primary, held in September 2010. Registration for the next mayoral race begins in November.
“The mayor is focused on running the city and not on the election,” Gray’s Senior Communications Manager Doxie McCoy wrote in an email.
Government professor Jonathan Ladd said that Gray would most likely have to make his re-election decision without knowing if any formal charges will be brought against him.
“It could be that the U.S. Attorney won’t close the investigation or announce any new charges until after the election is over, so the possibility of new things coming out will hang over the whole campaign,” Ladd said. “It’s surprising to me that the investigation has taken so long to resolve.”
If the investigation remains inconclusive, government professor Michael Bailey said that it would be possible for Gray to launch a re-election campaign.
“Even though he does have this terrible political burden, he still could be viable,” Bailey said.
If Gray were to be formally charged with a crime, however, Bailey said he believed it would be difficult for Gray to run, perhaps even impossible.
Nevertheless, government professor Daniel Hopkins pointed to Washington, D.C. politicians’ history of recovering from unsavory pasts. For example, Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), former mayor and current councilmember, won re-election for both mayor and councilmember after serving time in federal prison for drug-related offenses.
“For many voters, a scandal in and of itself doesn’t disqualify you from running for office,” Hopkins said. “In urban politics, generally, the scandal is more threatening from the point of view of prosecution than it is from the point of view of voters ousting you.”
Apart from these concerns, Ladd thought Gray would secure an easy victory, pointing to his strong support among African American and low-income voters as well as higher-income sections of the city, thanks to recent economic advancements.
“This is really the only thing that would make you worry,” Ladd said. “[Otherwise,] he would seem to have a pretty easy path to re-election.”
If Gray were to run, he would face opposition from four declared candidates: councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), in addition to former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis.
A poll commissioned in July by Wells’ campaign showed a Gray re-election bid winning by a slight lead.
Wells pointed to the investigation into Gray as testament to the District’s problems with ethical politics.
“The District has witnessed the greatest crises of ethics since the beginning of home rule,” Wells wrote in an email. “I am fighting to bring integrity to our government and to make D.C. a great place for everyone in every part of the city to live, work and raise a family.”
Other candidates declined to comment.
“I have no view on this at all,” Evans said on the topic of a Gray re-election campaign.
Bowser and Jo Lewis did not respond to requests for comment.