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Vincent Gray is the latest D.C. mayor to be dogged by scandal

By Brian Todd and Dan Merica, CNN
updated 11:34 AM EDT, Fri July 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gray faces heat over investigation into his campaign funding
  • Other Washington mayors have been the subject of investigation
  • Most widely known is Marion Barry, who served time on a drug charge

Washington (CNN) -- Mayor Vincent Gray knew in January 2012 that members of his staff had not properly reported funds raised for his 2010 campaign, according to a source close to a federal investigation into his campaign funding.

When Jeanne Clarke Harris, a public relations consultant, told Gray in a meeting that she had not reported all the expenditures from the campaign, the mayor instructed her to report them right away, the source said. Harris pleaded guilty this week to helping orchestrate a secret campaign on Gray's behalf.

The allegations have led three of Gray's former colleagues on the Washington council -- David A. Catania, Mary M. Cheh and Muriel Bowser -- to call for his resignation, while also writing the next chapter in what has been a long history of political scandal coming from Washington's mayoral office.

Three of the last four occupants of the office have been stung by ethics questions ranging from crack cocaine use and possession to campaign finance violations.

D.C. mayor faces litany of problems

"Whether or not he knew of the massive election fraud that was taking place in his name, he is responsible for it," Cheh said in a statement about Gray. She said the scandal "has caused incalculable harm to the district."

On Wednesday in his first public statements since Harris' revelations, Gray said, "This is not the campaign that we intended to run." Gray went on to acknowledge that his 2010 campaign had "issues."

But on Thursday, Gray said he had no plans to resign. Asked about the three council members who are calling for him to resign, Gray said there are nine other members who have not called for his resignation.

And he said he was disappointed in Cheh's call for him to step down.

"She's a constitutional lawyer and I think people you know, until somebody has proven somebody there is something, there's no reason to raise those kind of issues," he said.

Former senior adviser Mo Elleithee verified the issues, saying there were basically two campaigns.

"There were those people that were working legitimately, following the rules, playing by the rules trying to get his message out," said Elleithee. "And then there were these people doing this thing on the side. And most of us on the legitimate campaign didn't see it. They hid it very well."

Elleithee said he didn't believe Gray should step down over the finance infractions, as long as he didn't do anything directly wrong. Elleithee did acknowledged that "every candidate is ultimately responsible for his own campaign."

Campaigns and politicians with "issues" are par for the course in Washington's local government. The litany of D.C. politicians who became mired in political scandal and turmoil -- some of whom were forced to resign for wrongdoing -- is not a lonely group.

The most well known of the scandalized district politicians is Marion Barry, a four-term Washington mayor and current council member for Ward 8.

Barry was first elected in 1979 and was the dominant political force in the district until 1990, when he was arrested and charged with crack cocaine use and possession. Barry was caught in a sting operation while he and his former girlfriend, Rasheeda Moore, were using crack in a room at the Vista Hotel.

After agents stormed the room and arrested Barry -- all of which was caught on camera -- the mayor became enraged and yelled, "Bitch set me up."

The sting and arrest became a stain on the district and, in many ways, made the mayor a laughingstock. Barry was convicted of drug possession and served six months in federal prison.

Barry wasn't done getting in trouble. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to failing to file his tax returns from 1999 through 2004. For that plea, the then-D.C. council member received three years' probation.

D.C. political scandal is not contained to Barry. In 2009, four Washington council committees voted to investigate then-Mayor Adrian Fenty after city contracts were awarded to a company owned by Omar Karim, one of Fenty's former fraternity brothers.

Attorney Robert Trout, whom the council appointed as the investigator, found that Fenty did nothing wrong, but Trout found possible wrongdoing by Karim and the stain of the investigation nagged Fenty in his losing 2010 race against Gray.

Gray has a long history in Washington politics, dating back to his time as director of the D.C. Department of Human Services in 1991. During his time as director, he grew the size and scope of the department and came to be known as a vocal advocate for the district's homeless community.

Gray was first elected to the Council of the District of Columbia, the governing body where Gray made most of his political name, in 2004. When the chairman of the council decided not to seek re-election in 2006, Gray ran for the chairmanship and won.

He ran as a unifying candidate, with a campaign slogan of "One City," and pledged to unite a city that had long seen distinct social and racial divides. Gray reused the "One City" mantra in his 2010 race for mayor.

But according to political analyst Mark Plotkin, Gray's time as mayor may be short-lived. According to the longtime D.C. political analyst, Gray is losing legitimacy.

"My feeling is that it's just a matter of time," Plotkin said. "The political and the legal pressure, working almost together, I just don't know what he comes up with as a rebuttal. And even if it is proven that he had nothing to do with this, and is exonerated, his legitimacy is so much in question."

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