WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray lost his re-election bid on Tuesday after a criminal investigation into the financing of his 2010 campaign that has snared three of his former officials left a taint of scandal around his tenure.
Council member Muriel Bowser defeated Gray in the Democratic Party primary election, taking 44 percent of the vote to his 32 percent in a six-person race. In a heavily Democratic city, the result is tantamount to a Bowser victory in the November election.
Gray's re-election bid was dogged by questions over his ties to billionaire Washington businessman Jeffrey Thompson, a government contractor and former healthcare company owner, who pleaded guilty three weeks ago to violating campaign finance laws by channelling $2 million in illegal funds between 2006 and 2012 to national candidates and 15 D.C. council members.
In Gray’s case, federal prosecutors accused Thompson of funnelling more than $660,000 through friends and relatives to Gray’s 2010 election upset of incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty in what they called a shadow campaign. During a dinner meeting, Gray presented a one-page budget of $425,000 for his "get-out-the-vote" efforts that he asked Thompson to fund, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Atkinson told a federal court in March.
"Mr. Gray agreed to keep Mr. Thompson's fundraising secret," Atkinson said during Thompson’s hearing last month. Gray also agreed to refer to Thompson as "Uncle Earl" in conversations about Thompson's fundraising to conceal the activities, Atkinson said. The federal investigation is still in progress.
Gray, 71, has consistently denied that he knew of anything illegal taking place, calling the allegations “lies” and “fabricated.” Two of his campaign consultants and his assistant treasurer from his 2010 campaign have already pleaded guilty to illegal financing of operations, but until Thompson made his guilty plea, Gray was leading in the polls.
It was the latest in a string of scandals that has earned the nation’s capital the label of the District of Corruption and fuelled suspicions that developers and businesses are getting cozy deals as the city booms but the poverty gap widens.
Former council member Michael Brown began serving a three-year jail term in June 2013 for accepting $55,000 in bribes after he was caught in a federal sting by agents posing as government contractors. A year earlier, former council chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to bank fraud in obtaining a home loan, and a third council member, Harry Thomas Jr., admitted embezzling $353,000 in public funds from a youth programme.
A tax official was convicted in 2008 of embezzling almost $50 million, and former Mayor Marion Barry, a sitting council member, has served time for a drug conviction in 1990. The federal government took control of the city in the latter part of that decade to bring its finances under control.
Bowser, who is serving her second term on the council, won the primary on promises that she would be a trustworthy mayor. Her main legislative accomplishment has been the creation of an ethics commission.