Almost from the beginning of his tenure as D.C.'s mayor, Vincent C. Gray's administration has been entangled in a far-reaching federal investigation into activities surrounding his 2010 election campaign.
The latest domino to fall is Gray's longtime friend and associate Jeanne Clarke Harris who last week pled guilty to violating District and federal campaign finance laws, engaging in fraud, giving false statements and obstructing justice. She is the third Gray campaign official to plead guilty in recent months.
Not long after her appearance in court, D.C. Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David Catania (I-At Large) issued public statements demanding Gray's resignation. Gray has been defiant, steadfastly refusing to resign.
"I think it's unfair to say our administration is corrupt," Gray told members of the media at his weekly press conference on July 11. "I have distinguished between the campaign and administration. If there's something about our administration you want to put your finger on, I would invite you to do that but I think that's a very unfair characterization."
"As you'll remember, I'm the one who called for an investigation of my own campaign. And we will continue to work with the investigation. A lot of people will probably have that question but I get up every morning and look in the mirror and see someone I respect..."
Gray continues to deny any knowledge of the shadow campaign or any wrongdoing.
Harris, 75, admitted in court to overseeing the disbursement of $653,800 to fund the shadow campaign, and she said she enlisted relatives, friends and employees as "straw donors" to direct an additional $38,000 into the Gray campaign. The money is believed to have come from powerful political donor and kingmaker Jeffrey Thompson.
Catania said Gray has further sullied the reputation of the city's political leaders and said he should leave regardless of whether he was aware of what was going on or not.
Catania, 44, who has a frosty relationship with Gray, 69, was blunt.
"The legitimacy of the election has been called into question. Whether the mayor knew of the shadow campaign or not does not matter," said Catania shortly after news of Harris' court appearance broke. "He should not be the beneficiary of that illegality. He should step down immediately for the good of the District."
Cheh, 61, who supported Gray in 2010 against the wishes of a vast majority of her constituents who preferred former Mayor Adrian Fenty, said much the same.
"Today, I join Councilmember Catania in calling on Mayor Gray to resign. Whether or not he knew of the massive election fraud that was taking place in his name, he is responsible for it. I cannot overemphasize the sadness that accompanies this action on my part."
"I came to know Vincent Gray as chairman of the Council and during the four years that we served together, I did not know of a single person with more integrity and commitment to the people of the District of Columbia. Indeed, that's why I endorsed him when he ran for mayor. But the facts cannot be ignored and what has happened since has caused incalculable harm to the District. I believe he would do a great public service if he would step aside now."
Elsewhere, she said: "We can't go on like this. This drip, drip of scandal. It's sapping the life of the city."
Interim Council Chairman Phil Mendelson termed the calls for Gray's resignation "premature" and so far, no one else on the council has joined in seeking Gray's removal.
The Rev. Willie Wilson, senior pastor of Union Temple in Southeast since 1973, said he was troubled by what he characterized as "an unfair investigation."
"It's a rush to judgment," he said during an interview Monday evening. "It's divisive because there are people who feel this is unfair. No charge has been leveled against him. In any campaign, you might find quirks in the campaign where every 't' wasn't crossed or every 'i' dotted. The mayor, Vernon Hawkins and Jeff Thompson have devoted their entire lives to the downtrodden."
"You'd think these men had robbed five banks and killed 10 people. The government can better spend taxpayers' money in other ways. I hope he [Gray] will stand fast to his position until something is uncovered."
Hawkins played a role in the Gray campaign and there are suggestions from the U.S. Attorney's Office that he was the person who masterminded the shadow campaign. Rumors are swirling that he might be the next Gray associate caught up in the Fed's net.
As the scandal mushrooms, local political consultant and commentator Chuck Thies said he believes the trio of council members was moved as much by political calculation as outrage over the scandal when they called for Gray's resignation.
"I'm surprised at the council members," said Thies, who has lived in the Washington metropolitan area for 20 years. "It isn't justifiable. What I see going on here is Cheh trying to pander to the many people who're upset with her for supporting Gray. But that won't work. And Bowser wants to be mayor sooner than later. I'm surprised at Catania, though, because he's usually more thoughtful."
"The mayor has not been convicted of a crime, is not a 'person of interest' or a suspect."
What seems to have been lost in the rush to judgment, Thies said, is that there is no smoking gun which links Gray directly to any of the campaign shenanigans.
"When you're embroiled in or associated with criminal activity, until you're found guilty, the presumption is innocence. I haven't heard people saying Vince Gray should resign. There are no rallies and there are no people carrying pitchforks demanding that he resign. They're just not there."
"People are fatigued by a series of scandals. I don't see a public outcry. They are disappointed."
Disappointment is the overwhelming emotion Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner [ANC] Francis Campbell said he feels about the scandal that has engulfed Gray.
Campbell, 61, said he had hoped that Gray, who won the mayor's office in November 2010, would bring experience, savvy and "a whole new attitude" to the job. But now he said, given all that has happened, those hopes have not materialized.
"I have to admit that I'm extremely disappointed. I like Gray and had high hopes of him and I expected better," he said during an interview Monday afternoon. "With him and Kwame Brown, I thought that was the best combination of the viewpoints and consideration of seniors but still dealing with the needs of younger residents and gentrifiers."
"It's disheartening. I thought the 'Bowtie Bandit' was bad and there was the arrogance of Fenty who further emphasized the 'good old boy network' and an attitude that he could do and say anything and it didn't matter what people thought."
Campbell said he hopes prosecutors won't "come up with trumped up charges" that are minor in nature.
"But if he did something wrong, they should send his happy [butt] to jail where they do roadside pickup of poop on the side of the road," he said of Gray.
Campbell, a retired respiratory therapist and an ANC for the past 10 years, said, he is cautiously pessimistic about Gray's prospects and he questioned how a seasoned politician could have gotten into this mess.
That answer, some observers say, falls to arrogance or hubris and there are others who say Gray's dilemma is the unavoidable consequence of stocking his administration with recycled, tired, old politicians and civil servants from the pre-Gray era.
Craig Holman is a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a national, nonprofit consumer-rights advocacy organization based in Northwest, which represents consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and elsewhere. He laments the damage to the District's image.
"In my opinion, this can't get much worse ...This entire scandal reflects poorly on the city itself," he said. "The extent and level of corruption is breathtaking. The amount of money and that budget for a local race in a local election will have a corrupting influence whether [the mayor knew or not]. It will have a very detrimental effect."
"People are saying this confirms the sense of corruption. One potentially positive impact is that the council will see that ethics is a problem and move toward sweeping legislation. It is usually on the heels of scandal that these types of changes are made."
If city officials are serious about ethics reform, said Holman, 55, they can begin by banning contributions from private contractors and finding a political counterbalance to the powerful one party system in the District.