Former DC Mayor Gray's long saga is finally over
© Lauren Schneiderman

The citizens of the nation's capital have been put on hold for the past four-and-a-half years. In 2010, Vince Gray (D) was elected mayor of Washington. (Full disclosure: I have known Gray since our college days at George Washington University.) Almost immediately after resuming office, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia (the federal prosecutor) began investigating the new mayor for alleged campaign finance violations.

ADVERTISEMENT

Over the past four-and-a-half years, seven people pled guilty to offenses related to the 2010 mayoral election. Gray himself was the target of the investigation. Former U.S. Attorney Ron Machen even went so far as to offer him a "deal" if he would plead guilty. Gray refused the deal, memorably saying, "Why should I plead guilty? I did nothing wrong."

Gray's entire time in office was marred and enveloped by this investigation. On Wednesday, new U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips brought an end to all the drama and announced "that the investigation into corrupt spending in federal and local political campaigns ... has concluded. No additional charges are expected to be filed."

Gray lost the Democratic primary in 2014 in large part because three weeks prior to the election, one individual, Jeffrey Thompson, pled guilty to "taking part in a scheme" that "channeled more than $668,800 to pay for campaign activities" that were not reported and were illegal.

Muriel Bowser, a city councilmember with no significant legislative record or any other apparent distinction, was endorsed by The Washington Post and all of a sudden became the "reform" candidate. The white vote in a D.C. Democratic primary, which now might very well be 50 percent of the total turnout in a majority African-American city, went overwhelmingly for someone they had no history with and no particular affection for. They voted for her simply because she was not Gray. Gray was tainted, while Bowser was considered "clean." One sage observer said that the 62 percent of voters in predominantly white, well-off Ward 3 who voted for her "couldn't pick her out in a police line-up." It didn't matter.

In African-American wards, voters stuck with Gray, but not with the large turnout they had exhibited four years earlier. Bowser was the protege of previous Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had gone from hero (winning all 137 precincts in the 2006 primary) to pariah. Gray beat Fenty in 2010 because, by then, many African-Americans believed that Fenty had forgotten and ignored them.

Everybody has been asking why it took so long for the prosecutors to come to a resolution in the Gray case. His attorney, the fabled Robert Bennett (he was also President Bill Clinton's lawyer) told me in an interview that the U.S. attorney had made the "right decision," that the federal government "convicted [Gray] in the press" and that the whole case "was built on quicksand."

"Quicksand" was Jeffrey Thompson. Thompson was to be the lead and chief witness against Gray. Many observers believe that Thompson, who pleaded guilty, would in no way have been a credible witness. In addition, Bennett would have probably torn him to shreds in the courtroom.

As for Gray, he very well might "pull a Marion Barry," after the late former Washington mayor. He is thinking of running for the Ward 7 council seat or as an at-large candidate. If he should win that, nothing would give him greater pleasure than to run against Bowser and reclaim the mayor's office, which he passionately believes was unjustly taken from him.

This saga is over, thankfully. A brand new one is about to begin in D.C. That's politics.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.