WASHINGTON (AP) — Vincent Gray declared his candidacy for a second term as District of Columbia mayor Monday, settling a question that had hung over city politics for months.
Gray's campaign will force voters to weigh the prosperity achieved during the Democrat's nearly three years in office against the crimes several close associates committed to help get him elected in 2010.
A federal investigation of the 2010 campaign has been ongoing for most of Gray's term. Four people who worked on the campaign have pleaded guilty to felonies, two of them for helping to orchestrate and spend $653,000 in illicit funds on Gray's behalf. Prosecutors called the effort a "shadow campaign" that tainted Gray's victory over then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Gray maintained on Monday as he has throughout the probe that he did nothing wrong. He has refused to discuss the case in detail and declined to comment on whether he was running with the blessing of his attorney, Robert Bennett, who also declined to comment.
Gray arrived late Monday afternoon at the D.C. Board of Elections to pick up nominating petitions and sign a declaration of candidacy. He has one month to collect 2,000 signatures to get his name on the ballot.
Gray is a late entry to the race, with the Democratic primary scheduled for April 1. The mayor said he waited until Monday because he wanted to give U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen as much time as possible to wrap up the investigation.
"I was hoping that all the 2010 stuff would be over," Gray said. "It isn't, and it will continue on however long the U.S. attorney chooses to investigate it."
Some of Gray's opponents have been running for the better part of a year. The mayor remained coy about his intentions for so long that many observers — including some of his supporters and potential rivals — assumed he had no intention of running.
Supporters maintain that after a rocky first few months in office, Gray, 71, has been a conscientious leader for a city that's enjoyed declining violent crime, soaring property values, a rising population and improving schools. But his approval ratings tanked amid revelations of the "shadow campaign" and a scandal involving minor candidate Sulaimon Brown, who was paid by Gray campaign workers to stay in the race and make negative comments about Fenty.
Brown was rewarded with a $110,000-a-year job in the Gray administration but was fired in early 2011 after less than a month in the position. He then came forward with his allegations, which led to the federal probe. Two people pleaded guilty to paying Brown with Gray campaign funds and trying to cover up the transactions.
A Washington Poll in July 2012 put Gray's approval rating at 29 percent and his disapproval rating at 59 percent.
Gray enters a crowded field of candidates with no obvious front-runner.