WASHINGTON (AP) — Former District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, whose sole term in office was dogged by a federal investigation that ended with no charges filed against him, began his political comeback Thursday, announcing that he will run for the D.C. Council.
Gray, 73, lost his re-election bid in the 2014 Democratic primary to current Mayor Muriel Bowser. Three weeks before the primary, a federal prosecutor said in court that Gray knew about an illegal, $660,000 slush fund that helped him get elected in 2010. Last December, prosecutors said they decided not to charge him.
Gray has maintained he was unaware that his aides were breaking the law. Six people who worked on the campaign or raised money for him pleaded guilty to felonies.
Gray, who is black, will run for the council seat representing his home ward east of the Anacostia River, where he remains popular. His ward is overwhelmingly black and less affluent than most of the city.
The former mayor said Thursday that he will run in his home ward rather than for a citywide Council seat because that's where he thinks he can do the most good and not because it's easier for him to win. He said many residents have urged him to run and are fed up with the current Council member, Democrat Yvette Alexander.
"Sadly, there's wide dissatisfaction at this stage with the representation," Gray said during an appearance on WAMU-FM.
His comeback evokes memories of the late Marion Barry, who returned to the D.C. Council just months after he served six months in prison for drug possession. Two years later, Barry was elected to a fourth term as mayor.
"I think his plan, although he won't admit to it, is exactly similar to Barry: to serve two years in office and then run for mayor," said Mark Plotkin, a longtime political commentator who's known Gray for 50 years. "He is not the president of the Muriel Bowser fan club, and she is not the president of his. They really detest each other."
Gray said Thursday that his campaign isn't an attempt to get back at the mayor, federal prosecutors or others perceived to have wronged him.
"There is no way I would do this as some way to seek retribution," Gray said. "There's too much work to do in this city."
Gray said some residents, however, believe the public was misled by prosecutors.
"People were left with the belief that I was going to be charged. I was not," Gray said. "People are angry about the way that situation was handled."
Gray has said the investigation and the public statements by then-U.S. Attorney Ron Machen cost him the election. Machen defended his office's work, saying he exposed rampant illegality in District politics.
As mayor, Gray was a detail-oriented technocrat who earned praise for his management of city finances. If voters return him to the council, he would be a likely antagonist for Bowser. Her supporters will work to keep Alexander in office.
"He has a terrible record as a public servant. He takes no accountability for any mistake that happens in his camp," said Joshua Lopez, a field organizer for Bowser.
Bowser made frequent references to Gray's scandals while campaigning on the idea of a "fresh start" for the city, and Gray declined to endorse her in the general election. However, both are mainstream Democrats with liberal views on social issues and ties to the business community.
Alexander has a lower profile than many of her council colleagues. In recent years she's been the council's most vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, which city voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin, although she did work to expand access to medical marijuana.
She said in a statement Thursday that she's dedicated to serving her ward and that she welcomes the challenge from any qualified candidate. Gray and Alexander were longtime allies, and she stood by him amid the scandals, but after his loss in 2014, she quickly aligned herself with Bowser.
Gray got more than twice as many votes as Bowser in his home ward in 2014, and many older African-American voters remain loyal to him.
"I would be very surprised if he did not win," Plotkin said. "I would consider it an upset if (Alexander) won."