Gray Survives Tough Week

Barrington M. Salmon | 7/25/2012, 11:24 a.m.

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."