Opinion: Gray's Critics Need a History Lesson

In the summer of 2002, Mayor Anthony Williams was running for reelection. Then disaster struck his campaign. Williams needed the signatures of 2,000 Democratic voters to qualify for the ballot. Instead, his nominating petitions contained nearly 10,000 fraudulent signatures.

News of the scandal broke on television. It then spread fast to the newspapers and on a primitive internet.

No one knew for sure who was responsible for what was clearly a criminal act. The questionable signatures were obvious forgeries.

Williams disavowed any knowledge of the scheme or involvement in the signature gathering process.

Though it would be a long time before investigators identified the culprits who orchestrated and abetted the scheme, Williams was presumed innocent and received the benefit of the doubt.

I do not recall any D.C. Council members or pundits calling on Williams to resign or suggesting he should not continue to seek reelection. To the contrary, Williams was encouraged to soldier on and mount a write-in campaign.

Ten years later, Mayor Vincent Gray finds himself in a similar boat. Individuals affiliated with his campaign broke laws.

The difference, though, is obvious. Three Council members, David Catania, Mary Cheh and Muriel Bowser, have called on Gray to resign. Two Washington Post pundits, Petula Dvorak and Robert McCartney, have jumped on the dump Gray bandwagon.

The presumption of innocence afforded to Williams is not being granted to Gray. Quite a double standard, in particular if you review history and apply reason to the current state of affairs.

The criminals who broke laws to get Williams on the ballot demonstrably undermined the Democratic process.

The criminals who broke laws during the Gray campaign had a nominal impact on his election.

Those who conspired to pay fringe candidate Sulaimon Brown to attack then-Mayor Adrian Fenty did so in vain. No one believes Brown had any impact.

Those who conspired to fund and orchestrate a shadow campaign also did so in vain.

Yes, $650,000 sounds like a lot of money, but not when criminals spend it. Typically, crooks don’t get good value for their bucks. Tens of thousands of dollars spent on t-shirts, stickers, door hangers, other trinkets, hotels and consultants is not the way to fund an effective campaign, whether it is legit or shady.

Fenty lost to Gray by 13,000 votes.

But do not ask Gray's critics to be guided by history or reason. 

They have agendas. And enablers.

Reporters who feel the need to continuously ask Gray if he is resigning create a feeding frenzy that provides cover for scheming pols and overzealous pundits.

The desire to claim a scalp runs deep in politics and media.

What has Gray done that rises to an impeachable offense?

To date, what we know is that a few Gray supporters did some very dumb and illegal things.

Campaigns can bring out the worst in people. You might be shocked if you saw your grandmother shimmy up a lamppost to tear down a candidate’s sign, but don’t be. I have seen a lot worse from people who I consider to be of high character.

Are we really supposed to take seriously cries for Gray's ouster because some of his friends and political allies exercised horrific judgment during a campaign?

For now, that is a bridge too far.

Asking an elected official to step down is serious business. A smoking gun is not required to demand a resignation, but much more than we know today is.

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.

Contact Us