Sherwood's Notebook: The Return of Vince Gray?

It finally, really, broke out into the open last week.

Former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who lost his re-election bid last year, is said to be thinking seriously about trying to revive his political career.

Both the Washington City Paper and The Washington Post wrote that Gray has confided to friends and others that he is considering a race for either an at-large seat or the Ward 7 seat on the D.C. Council next year. The potential race had been mentioned on the radio and in many conversations, but the newspaper reports made it a more current, public topic.

Gray has not spoken publicly on the subject, neither denying nor affirming his plans. Last June, on WPFW radio, Gray said in response to a question, “I’ve ruled nothing out, ruled nothing in.” The question was posed by Gray’s 2014 campaign manager and guest host Chuck Thies. The exchange was reported by NBC4.

Yet, those who have talked with Gray recently say he is embittered over his re-election loss to Muriel Bowser in April 2014. He blames the long-running federal investigation into his 2010 campaign for mayor and the continuing legal questions around the $650,000 “shadow” campaign that helped him defeat then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

The federal probe is now four-and-a-half years old. Seven people have pleaded guilty during the investigation of the scheme. An eighth, former Gray fundraiser Reuben Charles, was indicted last week on two misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income taxes. The indictment itself did not reference the Gray investigation, but the news release issued by acting U. S. Attorney Vincent Cohen did.

Even the Post editorial page, which has castigated Gray’s murky 2010 campaign, more lately has called on prosecutors to charge Gray or signal the end of the investigation. At every public moment, the prosecutors say only that “the investigation is continuing.”

So is a potential Gray campaign a challenge to prosecutors, one daring them to indict him or end their investigation? It is a serious gamble if Gray has any culpability. Only he knows that for sure.

Those close to Gray say he insists he did nothing wrong and has turned down possible plea agreements.

Gray would run in a Democratic primary, facing either incumbent at-large member Vincent Orange or current Ward 7 member Yvette Alexander. Alexander had been one of Gray’s strongest backers on the council. But as the late Marion Barry said when he defeated Ward 8 member Wilhelmina Rolark and later Ward 8’s Sandy Allen, “It’s not personal; it’s politics.”

Even among those who questioned his 2010 campaign, many believe Gray was a good mayor. While Gray’s lawyer Bob Bennett counseled, Gray went about economic development, environmental reforms and education and recreation improvements, among other achievements.

But Gray couldn’t shake the corruption campaign and was defeated for re-election.
Prosecutors consider public corruption cases the hallmark of the Justice Department. If Gray does come out of political retirement, the prosecutors may be as much a challenge as those who run against him.

■ Scherzer vs. Sherwood? Last week we said goodbye to the 2015 baseball season as far as the Nationals were concerned. We bemoaned how the underperforming Nats had to limp into New York City to play three final games of the season against the Mets — the very same Mets who had squashed the Nats to become division champions.

But our goodbye was a tad early. The Nats went on to win two out of three of those final games — but that wasn’t the season-ending highlight.

Nats pitcher Max Scherzer threw a no-hitter Saturday night in a game the Nats won 2-0. He is only the sixth pitcher to toss two no-hitters in the same season, and the first since Nolan Ryan did so in 1973. And Scherzer’s 17 strikeouts tied Ryan’s record for the most in a no-hit game. But it also was a new record for a no-hit, no-walk game. On Monday, Major League Baseball named him the National League Player of the Week.

The heroics don’t save the sorry season, in which many had expected the Nats to complete for the World Series. The team didn’t make it even into the postseason. The no-hitter was kind of lipstick on a pig, but a sweet ending to a bad-dream season.

■ On to 2016? It wasn’t a fast finish to the season. Playing 162 games takes a lot of months — mentally longer if you’re losing. But, as expected, the Nationals wasted no time in shaking up the team leadership.

On Sunday, just prior to a final loss in the last game of the season, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo was asked about the fate of the team and manager Matt Williams.

“We’ll make decisions sooner rather than later about personnel on the field, off the field and in the front office,” he told sports writers. “We are not going to let people twist in the wind.”

Well, there wasn’t any time for blowing in the wind. There wasn’t even time for a breeze.

On Monday, Rizzo sacked the manager and the whole coaching staff. Just a year ago, Williams had been named National League Manager of the Year.

“Really a tough day,” Rizzo said in a telephone news conference, noting he had done the firing face-to-face. That telephone call was a bit easier than facing down the sports reporters and the cameras. Rizzo made the understatement of the year during the call: “It wasn’t our best year. It wasn’t Matt’s best year. It wasn’t my best year. As an organization, it wasn’t our best year.”

But some wondered whether Rizzo himself might be let go along with the manager. Several baseball experts and reporters (they can be different sometimes) agree Rizzo has developed a deep farm system and put together a talented major league team despite roster changes to come.

All that suggests that at least Rizzo will be back for the 2016 season. But watch the door.

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

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