Sherwood's Notebook: A Council Comeback?

Political consultant Chuck Thies showed up a couple of weeks ago with a size-too-big baseball cap.

It wasn’t a Nats cap, although Thies more likely would have been wearing a Phillies cap if it was baseball he had in mind.

Nope, the cap was emblazoned with a simple slogan, “Make DC Gray Again.”

Sure, it was inspired by the Donald Trump cap with its “Make America Great Again.” But Thies was only signaling what happened last week: the political return of Vincent C. Gray.

The former D.C. Council member, council chairman and mayor announced on the WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Show he’ll run to reclaim the Ward 7 council seat. Never mind that it is occupied by Yvette Alexander, whom he endorsed to succeed him and who supported him as mayor.

It reminds us of the late Marion Barry, who ran against not one but two council members who each had been his ardent supporters when he was mayor. He ran against and defeated Wilhelmina Rolark and later Sandy Allen, each time to win the Ward 8 seat. And each time when asked about the disloyalty, Barry would say, “It’s not personal; it’s politics.”

And so it is with Gray.

Gray is mostly well-liked in Ward 7. Many residents there believe he got a raw deal in the long-running federal probe of his 2010 campaign for mayor, which ended with no charges filed against Gray. Alexander is a friendly, largely popular council member but has no strong hold on the ward.

Most political observers believe she is more than vulnerable to Gray’s quest for voter redemption.
Gray told Kojo that he was disappointed that Alexander has not been the strong leader the ward and city need. Alexander told NBC4 she already was running for re-election and she didn’t care whether it was Gray or anyone else opposing her.

The former mayor said that he also had considered running at-large against incumbent Vincent Orange. He said he picked Ward 7 because “that is home.”

It’s also an easier race than running citywide. Although Orange is vulnerable to a strong challenge, Gray supporters say the former mayor could not depend on getting much of the city’s white vote even if he tried. The hangover from the inconclusive federal probe — Gray wasn’t cleared; he just wasn’t charged — makes that demographic wary of him. Gray has a positive if mixed reputation among the District’s African-Americans. So better, his supporters say, for Gray to rebuild his reputation by starting in Ward 7, where he is best known and liked.

■ Run for mayor? Gray says the council race is not a prelude to run for mayor again in 2018, but he would not rule out such a campaign. In fact, it is way early for Gray to even consider such a campaign. Too much depends on how Mayor Muriel Bowser does over the next two years.

Everyone familiar with city politics knows that Gray blames his 2014 loss to Bowser on federal prosecutors who ratcheted up their criminal probe just weeks before the primary voting. Jeffrey Thompson pleaded guilty to financing the shadow campaign and in court implicated Gray. But for reasons still not publicly explained, prosecutors decided that Thompson would not be a credible witness to testify against Gray on the witness stand. Since Thompson apparently was the key witness against Gray, any case against Gray couldn’t go forward.

Oddly, the sentencing date for Thompson is just a few days before the June 14 primary. It’s conceivable that the documents released at Thompson’s sentencing could once again disclose details that might embarrass Gray.

It makes sense that Gray personally wants to be mayor again to avenge that 2014 loss, but he knows it’s far from an easy quest. Better to start small in Ward 7 to rebuild and wait for any opening to run for mayor again.

■ Pot politics. When an issue is too hot to handle in politics, there’s a reliable way out for elected leaders: Create a task force to study the issue. It’s a time-honored tradition. And the D.C. Council resorted to it last week.

They voted to create a seven-member task force to consider what next steps the city should take in legalizing marijuana use. Although marijuana use is currently legal if grown and consumed in a private home, advocates want the city to end a ban on marijuana consumption in private clubs or public spaces that accommodate it.

The decision to study the issue with a task force will push the issue beyond the June 14 primary.

Problem solved, at least for a while.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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