Sherwood’s Notebook: The Good and Bad for Mayor Gray

A new Washington Post poll out this week had very good news for Mayor Vincent Gray in his quest for re-election.

And some bad news.

First the good. Gray has a double-digit lead over a gaggle of opponents who are splitting the opposition vote in the Democratic primary. And 59 percent of poll respondents said the city is heading in the right direction, up from just 40 percent 18 months ago.

Now the bad. Gray got only 24 percent support, a very low number for an incumbent. And 54 percent in the poll think he is not — we repeat, not — honest or trustworthy. Still, that number is down from 61 percent of respondents who felt that way in the summer of 2012 when his campaign scandal was exploding with corruption convictions.

Bottom line for the poll: There’s plenty of opposition to the mayor, but he has a better base than any of his D.C. Council member challengers in the primary: Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Tommy Wells and Vincent Orange.

(Maybe the best polling was for Andy Shallal, a newcomer candidate who got 5 percent, more than the rest of the field of unknowns.)

Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies says the poll shows the mayor in “a strong position” and that while voters are concerned about the 2010 scandals, it’s not keeping them from supporting Gray.

■ The mayor’s campaign. It was a well-attended, well-orchestrated kickoff last Saturday for Gray.
The mayor excitedly asked everyone to focus on the future and judge him on his three years as mayor. But he doesn’t want you to look a bit further, back to the soiled campaign that got him elected in 2010. That’s the past; nothing to see there. Move along.

The Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus auditorium in Southeast D.C. was filled even if you discounted the many, many government workers and cabinet members attending on their own time.

Gray recited mayoral accomplishments and pledged to do more in a second term. He said he had worked hard as mayor to earn the trust of the people.

All of which is pretty typical of an incumbent.

But before any of that, the mayor also publicly repeated the vague apology he first made in the comfort of a TV studio earlier in the week. Gray said he was sorry for what he called “shortcomings” in his 2010 campaign. What Gray calls “shortcomings” is what prosecutors call felony criminal conduct. And the mayor never said precisely for what he was apologizing.

He broadly apologized “for the pain that my campaign caused.” But he also said that, “I cannot apologize for the misdeeds of others … .”

You might ask, why not?

The trouble with the mayor’s qualification is that the “misdeeds of others” were carried out by people in his very own campaign. More than one person asked us why Mayor Gray could not specifically apologize for the criminal behavior of say, Vernon Hawkins, a close confidant who was a central player in the Gray campaign and the shadow effort. (Hawkins pleaded guilty in court.)
But the mayor wants to keep vague his references to all that. He hasn’t been charged, and his lawyer has told him not to comment on the criminal probe lest he attract even more attention from the prosecutors.

“I ask for your forgiveness,” Gray said solemnly in his speech.
Just don’t bother him for any details of what you’re forgiving.

■ Blame the media. “It is time to turn the page,” Gray said determinedly.

But then he immediately launched into a broadside against the press.

“I know that some journalists and our opponents want you to focus on the past,” Gray said, deftly combining the media with his challengers. “I know that some reporters prefer a circus to a thoughtful discussion of the issues. I know that they care about ratings and selling newspapers.”

In fact, the mayor’s campaign is making the bad ol’ media a target in hopes of winning sympathy from some voters.

Gray has stiff-armed reporters better than an NFL running back anytime they want to talk about his first campaign. “We cannot be mired in the past,” he said Saturday.

And it’s not just Gray’s comments that lay bare the mayor’s strategy.

Jerry Moore III, chair of the mayor’s campaign, is normally an easygoing, friendly guy. But he began his own warm-up speech by attacking the media. “I want Vince Gray to tell me that he will not be distracted by the current cacophony in the media and will stay focused on the job the people elected him to do,” Moore roared. That drew a big round of applause from the auditorium.

After it was all over, Gray’s officially pugnacious campaign manager mixed it up with reporters out on the sidewalk. Thies sparred over details and words and attitudes that he found prejudicial to his candidate, who we might point out left the auditorium without speaking to any reporters. Gray had a busy schedule, Thies explained. It’s not clear how or when the mayor left the auditorium. His official car drove off without him. Where’s the mayor, we asked the campaign manager? He said he didn’t know.

Thies is an experienced political operative. He also is engagingly friendly when he wants to be and combative when it suits his purpose. It’s not personal; it’s politics.

Not everyone who is helping Gray thinks it’s a good idea to make the media the bad guy. But that looks like what’s on the menu for now.

(Disclosure: Before he joined the Gray campaign, Thies was a regular columnist for the NBC4 website,

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

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