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Opinion: Vince Gray Should Stay

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    NEWSLETTERS

    When sharks smell blood they sometimes frenzy and end up feeding on one another.

    This week, following revelations that an illegal “shadow campaign” was created to support the 2010 mayoral candidacy of Vince Gray, the sharks -- in the form of politicians and pundits -- smelled blood.

    Council members David Catania, Mary Cheh and Muriel Bowser called on Gray to resign.

    Harry Jaffe of the Washingtonian wants to void the 2010 election results and conduct a do-over.

    Alan Suderman, aka Loose Lips, of the Washington City Paper tweeted that Gray is "on edge of the abyss."

    Hogwash.

    What crime has Gray committed? None of the above has a specific answer to that question.

    Has anyone proved that Gray knew about the shadow campaign? No.

    Is it possible that aides and supporters who conspired to break laws in an effort to get Gray elected kept him in the dark? Very much so.

    I have managed and worked on many campaigns. One responsibility of senior staff is to shield the candidate from disaster. The purpose of a campaign is to get your guy elected. You do not want him to win and then go into office immersed in problems created by the campaign. So, you build a wall around your candidate to insulate him from harm and scandal

    As such, it is entirely plausible that Gray’s supporters orchestrated this entire affair without his knowledge.

    In fact, there is evidence that suggests a facade was concocted to cover up the scheme.

    Shortly after the FBI conducted raids in conjunction with the shadow campaign investigation, I called a former Gray campaign consultant. When I shared with him what I knew about the raid, he replied, “I guess that 527 wasn’t really a 527.”

    “527” is shorthand for an independent political committee formed to support a candidate.

    During the summer of 2010, some aides and maybe even Gray became aware that there were activities in the field for which their campaign was not responsible. Word on the street was that the efforts were an independent expenditure. Perhaps a 527. Clever cover, at the time, for what we now know was a criminal enterprise.

    And so, maybe Gray believed that independent committees were supporting him. After all, PACs are commonplace.

    In fact, it was widely known that labor unions were campaigning on Gray's behalf. How was he, or anyone else, supposed to discern a legal expenditure from a clandestine one?

    Indeed, no one in the media picked up on the illicit effort. It was well disguised.

    Of course, granting Gray the benefit of the doubt is of little interest to his enemies, political opportunists and some pundits. They smell blood.

    One other thing. The idea that the shadow campaign changed history and somehow bought victory for Gray is preposterous. Fenty was a dead man walking before Gray got in the race.

    Even if you believe that the $650,000 spent by the shadow campaign is significant, look more closely at what it paid for: thousands of t-shirts, yard signs, posters and literature, some hotel rooms, vans and consultants.

    If you gave me $650,000, I’d have spent it on direct mail, television and radio.

    The people running the shadow campaign were idiots. Just how effective are idiots regardless of how much money they have?

    At best, the shadow effort delivered a couple thousand people to the polls. Gray won by 13,000 votes.

    All this talk of a do-over or Gray resigning is the equivalent of frenzied sharks feeding on one another.

    There are skilled investigators probing the campaign and related matters. They have already claimed three scalps. Others are sure to follow. No one knows if Gray will be one of them.

    In the meantime, the city is doing fine. Gray has been a solid mayor.

    Calm down.

    Personal note to Mayor Gray: If you resign, how will future mayors deal with enemies, opportunistic politicians, the chattering class and a rabid media? A resignation tendered amidst a storm of unfounded accusations would set a dangerous precedent. Don't do it. Be stronger than your critics.


    Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant.  His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to chuckthies@gmail.com or tweet at @chuckthies.