Sherwood’s Notebook: An Ending and a Beginning…

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We may be at the beginning of the end of the shadow campaign scandal.

And — we can hope — we’re at the end of the beginning for the current campaign for mayor.

First, Mayor Vincent Gray returns Friday from China to face the media after disturbing news that his 2010 campaign driver has pleaded guilty in that long-running shadow campaign scandal.

Mark Long, the mayor's campaign director of advance operations and personal driver, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy for collecting and concealing illegal campaign contributions.

Long is not just another guilty plea (there already had been five). He may prove to be the linchpin that brings prosecutors closer to Mayor Gray and what he did or didn’t do during that sullied campaign.

Long acknowledged driving Gray to secret meetings with shadow campaign financier Jeffrey Thompson, handling phone calls from Thompson to Gray, and collecting secret cash from Thompson to give to Gray. In short, Long corroborates the time and place in which prosecutors say Thompson and Gray participated knowingly in the shadow campaign.

Thompson pleaded guilty in court this spring and Gray went out of his way to call Thompson a "liar."

Will Gray now say that one of his most trusted campaign aides is a liar, too?

Gray never has commented publicly on two other close associates and longtime pals, Jeanne Clark Harris and Vernon Hawkins. They both pleaded guilty to their roles in the shadow campaign.

Are Hawkins and Harris liars, too?

Back when he was still running for re-election, we casually talked with Mayor Gray about his situation. We both acknowledged that overall, he had a more than competent record as mayor.
But as we pointed out then, Gray is something like a track star. He was running a good race and running the city as best he could. However, he may have cheated at the start line with his campaign. And stuff like that gets you DQ'd (disqualified).

Some who support or even feel sorry for the mayor hope he can limp to the finish line of Jan. 2, 2015, when the new mayor takes over. They may see Gray riding off into the sunset, never charged.

But it may be just a dream.

"The 2010 mayoral campaign was rife with corruption," said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen. "Our work continues."

■ Ready, set, go. This week is important for another reason besides Mayor Gray’s return to face more scandal. The D.C. Board of Elections passed its deadline this week to disqualify any candidates for mayor. And on Friday, the board will pick the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.

At that point, mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser no longer will have an excuse to publicly ignore her opponents or act, as some say, like she’s already been elected mayor.

Since her Democratic primary win last April 1, Bowser for more than five months has refused to engage opponents for November. That’s even though independent David Catania and Carol Schwartz each turned in enough petition signatures to easily quality for the ballot. Bowser has hung on to a self-imposed technicality that those candidates weren't "official" until the board certification that comes Friday.

Several groups that wanted to have candidates forums this summer were told "no" or discouraged from even trying to plan something. Bowser also has indicated she doesn’t expect to run a gauntlet of endless, small neighborhood candidate forums, believing she was vetted heavily in the primary.

Bowser, Catania and Schwartz at this point have agreed to participate in a "candidate conversation" on the American University campus Sept. 18. And they've agreed to participate in Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU event Oct. 2. That forum will be held at the new NPR headquarters on North Capitol Street.

We’ll watch for other opportunities for you to see or hear the candidates. Assuming there are some.

■ A final word. Jerry Phillips is finally out of the street. The 75-year-old veteran journalist died Aug. 29. He was honored at a funeral Saturday in Northeast Washington at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, one of his favorite places on Earth.

Phillips was a 20-year presence on NBC4's Sunday morning "Reporters' Notebook" program. He often sought to express public opinion by referring to "people in the street" who thought this or that.

Well, those "people in the street" have lost a true friend.

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

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