During the recent NAACP conference in Houston, Texas, Shirley R. Smith said delegates discussed the challenges black elected officials face nationwide. The topic of discussion, she said, is playing out in Washington, D.C.
"What I heard was it is consistent that attacks are out against them," she said. "The Tea Party and the Ku Klux Klan have decided they will bring down black elected officials."
While Smith, a Ward 5 resident, shares the view held by other black Washingtonians that officials like Mayor Vincent C. Gray and black city council members have become targets because of their color, she said in Gray's case, she sees no evidence of his involvement in any wrongdoing.
"I didn't see anything that wasn't above-board," said Smith, 70, who worked on Gray's 2010 mayoral bid. "I didn't see or hear any of this. To hear this now, it's not fair. Mayor Gray is working hard, working as hard as Marion [Barry] in his day. I want him [Gray] to continue what he's doing."
Council member David Catania (I-At Large) was the first city lawmaker to call for Gray's resignation. Catania and his colleagues Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) are on record demanding that Gray step down.
Last Friday on WAMU 88.5 FM, Catania repeated his demand, adding the caveat that he no longer has the "fire in his belly" to run for mayor. Catania has argued that the revelations have delegitimized Gray's victory and have so tainted his tenure that whether the mayor knew of the shadow campaign or not, he should resign.
Gray (D), 69, has denied any wrongdoing and has steadfastly refused to resign.
The mayor has been under fire for months and faced a fresh round of criticism following the guilty plea of longtime friend and associate Jeanne Clarke Harris.
On Tuesday, July 10, Harris, 75, admitted in federal court to violating District and federal campaign finance laws, engaging in fraud, giving false statements and obstructing justice. She told the court of her role in helping run a $653,000 shadow campaign with money from an unnamed source, commonly believed to be local businessman Jeffrey Thompson. Harris is the third Gray campaign official to plead guilty to crimes associated with his 2010 election campaign.
U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said Harris' plea is another bad mark against an election already stained by proof that Gray campaign aides made illicit payments to Sulaimon Brown, a minor mayoral candidate, who was offered money and a job to batter Mayor Adrian Fenty in forums prior to the election. Two members of Gray's campaign pled guilty to their roles in that scheme.
"In 2010, the mayoral campaign was compromised by backroom deals, secret payments and a flood of unreported cash," said Machen. "The people of this city deserve better. They deserve the truth."
Gray supporters are incensed by what they say are unwarranted attacks against the mayor personally and against his integrity. They mobilized in his defense, and last Wednesday, July 18, several dozen supporters gathered in front of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest to voice their support for the embattled mayor. They chided those public officials who called for Gray's removal, calling their actions "premature" and a "rush to judgment."
Smith took Bowser to task for her role in calling for Gray to step down.
"She should be ashamed of herself," said Smith. "Muriel should sit her little self down and not stick with those racists Cheh and Catania. They will use her and dispose of her."
Johnny Barnes agrees.
"Shame on you Cheh, Graham, Catania," said Barnes, former executive director of the National Capital Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "You easily cast aside constitutional law. Shame for saying that Gray shouldn't have due process. In America, we have an investigation, not an inquisition, evidence, not 'evidently.' We celebrate Times Square, not Tiananmen Square. Gossip, innuendo, whispering. That's not the way we do this. And just because you associated with a bad person, doesn't make you a bad person."
Barnes, a 65-year-old Southwest D.C. resident, said any case of this nature requires reasonable doubt and that can only come after a detailed and thorough review of all the evidence. Anything less would be a miscarriage of justice, he added.
Local political consultant and commentator Chuck Thies concurs, saying if Gray stepped aside it would create a disastrous precedent for his successors.
"If you resign, how will future mayors deal with enemies, opportunistic politicians, the chattering class and a rabid media? A resignation tendered amidst a storm of unfounded accusations would set a dangerous precedent," he said. "Don't do it. Be stronger than your critics."
He said the sharks – in the form of politicians and pundits – smell blood and a feeding frenzy is underway.
"Council members ... called on Gray to resign.Harry Jaffe of the Washingtonian wants to void the 2010 election results and conduct a do-over. Alan Suderman, aka Loose Lips, of the Washington City Paper tweeted that Gray is "on the edge of the abyss."
"Hogwash," said Thies.
None of them has a specific answer to the question of what crime Gray has committed, and no one has proven that he knew about the shadow campaign, Thies said.
"Is it possible that aides and supporters who conspired to break laws in an effort to get Gray elected kept him in the dark? Very much so," he said. "The purpose of a campaign is to get your guy elected. You do not want him to win and then go into office immersed in problems created by the campaign. So, you build a wall around your candidate to insulate him from harm and scandal. As such, it is entirely plausible that Gray's supporters orchestrated this entire affair without his knowledge."
Thies ridiculed those calling for Gray's ouster, saying Gray has committed no crime. Furthermore, Thies said, the $650,000 did not sway the election in Gray's favor given Fenty's massive $5 million war-chest.