With corruption allegations threatening to derail his campaign for the April 1 primary, Mayor Vincent Gray is putting his reputation up against “Uncle Earl.”
The mayor used his Tuesday night State of the District address to pose this question to a supportive Ward 7 audience: “Who do you believe?”
At least one local newspaper chain is providing an answer the mayor won’t like.
On Wednesday, the Current Newspapers withdrew its support for Gray, which it had bestowed last week. Publisher and editor Davis Kennedy and managing editor Chris Kain wrote on Wednesday that the allegation that Gray knew about the shadow campaign “has forced us to rethink our mayoral endorsement,” finding, “We are now less certain about Mr. Gray’s innocence.”
“Our mayor should be above reproach. Accordingly we must retract our endorsement of Vincent Gray for the Democratic mayoral nomination.”
Gray addressed accusations from federal prosecutors that he knowingly participated in an illegal scheme to fund his 2010 campaign — allegations that stem from conspiracy charges against D.C. businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson aka “Uncle Earl” — within the first minutes of his State of the District speech.
“Before I go any further, and before I thank my host and talk about this wonderful school, I want to address what happened yesterday,” the mayor said.
The departure from the stated purpose of the address, to report on the status of the city and outline his agenda for the coming year, came after shoutouts to a few top administration officials and chants of “four more years” from many 2014 supporters at a Northeast D.C. middle school on Gray’s home turf.
“Federal authorities, who have conducted a wide-ranging investigation into years of campaign and election fraud, brought a man to justice yesterday,” Gray said. “That man sought to, uh, among other things, illegally subvert the election of President Barack Obama. And illegally pumped money into 28 District and federal campaigns and elections over the past decade.
“Federal investigators are now using this man’s words to suggest that I broke the law.”
Gray then asked listeners to consider his history of public service to the city, launching into a summary of his résumé. On Tuesday, he gave a more thorough version of the response he’s used to divert questions about the 2010 campaign during debates with the 2014 Democratic candidates.
He described how he began his career working on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, then joined the D.C. Department of Human Services in 1991. He went on to found Covenant House Washington, “a nonprofit to rescue homeless children,” and worked there for about a decade before being elected to represent Ward 7 on the D.C. Council in 2004.
“The job was a 40 percent pay cut for me, but the opportunity to pursue a new path in public service was more important than any paycheck,” Gray said, one day after federal prosecutors alleged the mayor personally requested Thompson provide $425,000 for get-out-the-vote efforts in 2010.
Gray talked about the policies he implemented after being elected D.C. Council chairman in 2006, including eliminating earmarks and pushing education reform legislation through the council.
“So I ask you, who do you believe?” he asked.
At this pause, the crowd began chanting, “You!”
Once the noise died down, Gray continued: “I ask you, who do you believe, a greedy man attempting to save himself, or me, a public servant who has dedicated my entire career and my entire life to giving back to our communities in the District of Columbia?”
Gray accused some residents of writing him off as “just another corrupt politician from the other side of town,” and he asked that they “look beyond their preconceived notions” and instead focus on his track record.
He finished with a final denial of the accusations.
“I say this to all of you now, clearly and unequivocally: I didn’t break the law,” the mayor said.
Prosecutors have filed no charges against Gray in the ongoing corruption probe. The mayor told WAMU 88.5 that if he is charged he will fight accusations and will not step down.