Gaffe a Minute: Will Gray make hay out of Fenty?s mayoral missteps?
Gaffe a Minute: Will Gray make hay out of Fenty?s mayoral missteps? Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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To listen to Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray these days, you’d think that the people of the District of Columbia have but one question on their minds. Not: Will there be health care reform this year? Or: Why is Jason Campbell still the Redskins’ quarterback? Rather: Is Vincent C. Gray going to run for mayor?

“I get it constantly,” Gray recently said on an early Sunday morning WRC-TV interview show. He told Washington Times reporters and editors last week that he gets asked “four or five times a day.”

LL can forgive Gray for having the impression that the populace is obsessed with his electoral prospects, because, well, so is LL. It’s one year until the Sept. 14, 2010, primary day, and Gray is first among a select group of heavyweights threatening to enter the mayoral race—a person with the citywide name recognition and instant credibility who could give incumbent Adrian M. Fenty a run for his $2.7 million war chest and make the next year of LL’s life a whole lot more exciting.

Self-doubt is no hindrance: “I certainly feel confident in my experience and ability that I can do the job,” he tells LL. “It’s a question of where you feel you can best serve the city.”

Gray, alas, will not answer such a question lightly. No matter how miffed he might be by Fenty’s repeated council snubs, to take on the incumbent he’d have to give up the council chairmanship, a job he happens to enjoy and whose election cycle matches the mayoralty’s. A knock-down, drag-out campaign might be a tall order for Gray, who turns 67 in November. And then there’s Gray’s meticulous, nay plodding, nature. “Vince is not a gambler,” says one wag.

And yet, Gray is sending out plenty of signs that he’s quite seriously considering gambling his political career. Look where Gray found himself last Saturday, giving his not-quite-a-stump-speech about how much he loves the city he was born and raised in, how he’s always answered a call to service, and so forth: None other than the 20th anniversary party for the Hillcrest Community Civic Association.

Not only is Hillcrest the location of Gray’s home and his political base, but it’s a locale with a reputation for sussing out political talent. Ground zero of the Anthony A. Williams draft campaign! Cradle of D.C. mayors!

There was Gray, talking about how the city needs better leadership, a mayor that’s more engaged, describing his vision for Washington. This, in between holding court and schmoozing the neighborhood politicos.

And look who Gray found himself warming up: none other than Williams, who returned the favor by extensively lauding Gray and reminiscing on the good ol’ days, when he and former chairman Linda Cropp got along gangbusters.

Gray’s willingness to entertain a mayoral run reflects the realization of the District’s political and business elite, not to mention its populace, that another four years of Fenty—or at least another four years of Fenty unchecked by a strong opponent—could be too much too bear.

To that end, a trio of councilmembers is all but colluding to come up with an electoral challenge. Between Gray and at-largers Kwame R. Brown and Michael A. Brown, someone will run against Fenty.

Gray denies any smoke-filled-room antics: “Anybody who decides to do this on the council, they’d check in with other members,” he says. Still, by virtue of his seniority and his chairmanship, Gray gets first dibs. Question is: How long can he wait to announce a mayoral run? Gray says he has no timeline, but there’s plenty of incentive to wait and see.

First off, how many more mini-messes can Fenty get himself into in the coming months? In August alone, Hizzoner needlessly nursed political conflicts by evicting Cora Masters Barry from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center on thin grounds and by enrolling his twin sons in a high-performing public school without offering an explanation. A half-dozen more of those by spring, and who knows?

Then there’s the matter of money: Gray can’t expect to raise much at all from businesses and developers hoping to do any sort of business with the city, given fears of pissing off the Green Machine. But Gray does have an old-boys network to call on, and he could probably raise the million-dollar nut he’d need to compete—but a shortened campaign would sure help.

But what if Gray thinks long and hard and decides that his fourth-floor corner office in the Wilson Building is just too much to risk?

In that case, there’s plenty of time for a Draft Kwame Brown campaign to develop—fomented in no small part by dad Marshall Brown. Why should Kwame be the second choice in taking on Fenty? He’s got a citywide base in place, and he’s fresh off a take-no-prisoners re-election campaign. He’s also the only one of the three who has proven himself able to match Fenty on the youth-and-energy front.

Like Kwame Brown, Michael Brown wouldn’t have to give up his council seat to take a second stab at the mayoralty, but he works from a significant disadvantage: To keep that council seat, he’ll have to remain an independent, and that means running against Democrat Fenty in the general election. Good luck: Not only would Fenty take special pleasure in putting down a Michael Brown insurrection, but not having the “D” next to his name stands to cost him thousands of votes. But there are a few reasons why Michael Brown might still think it’s a good idea: He’s got good name recognition and the ability to raise money from folks too rich or too far away to worry about payback from the Fenty machine.

A Gray run is the much preferred scenario from LL’s standpoint—if for no other reason than that such a move would kick off one of the great political scrambles in D.C. history: Who would run for the chair?

At least one sitting councilmember is on the record: “If Vince runs for mayor, I’d be interested,” says Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans.

Kwame Brown, with his ambition and his overwhelming re-election victory a year ago, is also a prime candidate. But is he up to the job? Gray, sources say, has been approached by potential donors and other parties concerned that a Gray mayoral run would mean a Kwame Brown chairmanship. The rap on Kwame: doesn’t have the gravitas, the heft, to manage the council’s egos and maintain the council’s institutional prerogatives.

Evans, foiled in his previous attempts to climb the political ladder in this town, might find the circumstances ripe. A prodigious fundraiser, Evans could gather hundreds of thousands in short order and certainly would allay any concerns among the power elite about having a lightweight in the chairman’s office. But a white guy as council chairman? Hell: David A. Clarke won four elections citywide, right?

If they didn’t have to focus on keeping their current council seats, both Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson might ponder chair runs; seeing as they do, don’t count on it. Don’t sleep on Fenty loyalist Muriel Bowser—though if the Green Machine were to extend itself to elect a second citywide candidate, it would demonstrate a taste for the political jugular that Fenty has yet to demonstrate. Among council exes, Vincent Orange could conceivably get bored with his cushy, high-paying Pepco job and plot a return to the dais.

Political Potpourri

• Fenty’s massive re-election fundraising drive has brought unsurprising results—a boatload of money from the business world (especially real estate developers) along with some smaller chunks of cash from ordinary folks. As of July 31, $2.7 million.

One contribution, though, sticks out among the lawyers and executives: $1,000 from “Spitzer, Eliot” at “985 5th Ave, New York, NY 10021” back in June.

Why does the disgraced former governor of New York have any stake in the mayor’s re-election bid?

“I’ve met him, he’s a good person, he’s worked hard, and so I like to support candidates like that, people like that who work hard for their city,” Spitzer told the Washington City Paper over the phone.

Spitzer’s donation came a few months after he helped engineer the purchase by his father’s company of a $180 million downtown D.C. office building. Did the purchase affect his decision to support Fenty?

“Absolutely not,” Spitzer said. “One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. To suggest the two are related is, frankly, quite stupid.”

The mayor is “a friend and somebody who I admire,” Spitzer said, but refused to explain their relationship any further. Pressed on the matter, he said only that the two “met in a governmental context.”

When queried on the same matter, Fenty replied that the donation came from a fundraiser in New York. Who held the fundraiser? “I’ll get you that information,” said Fenty.

The mayor said he had no second thoughts about accepting donations from a guy who’d used the District as a call-girl liaison pad. He also acknowledged milking his relationship with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other Big Apple muni-luminaries to build up his campaign coffers.

“We’ve had a great working relationship particularly with the city of New York,” he said. “It’s a relationship that spans between city hall, education, and our similar passions on that end. There’s a strong development community that works between New York and Washington, D.C.”

Fenty is the third candidate to receive a contribution from the ex-governor, after New Yorkers Mark Green and Cy Vance Jr. Is he flattered? “I guess the best thing to say about any particular donation is every single one of them is important. Every single one of them is appreciated.” —Chris Lewis

• In last week’s column, LL spun a scenario whereby the D.C. Council might approve a same-sex-marriage referendum. That best-case hypothetical situation for gay-marriage opponents, LL wrote, would be if “Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., on the hot seat with an election a year off, convinces Chairman Vincent C. Gray and at-largers Michael Brown and Kwame Brown to join him, Yvette Alexander, and Marion Barry.”

Not so fast! Gloria Murry Ford, a staffer for Michael Brown, called LL last week to protest mightily that her boss would never ever consider compromising on such a key civil-rights issue. Not even in some harebrained hypothetical scenario! Never!

Duly noted. And it should be said that Kwame Brown is signed on as a co-sponsor of the marriage bill, and Gray is not only a co-sponsor but offered strongly pro-marriage-equality comments in that Times interview earlier this week.

So that leaves Alexander, Barry, and Thomas.

The Post reported Barry is “keeping an open mind” on the marriage bill. (Yeah, right.) Thomas has been waffling for a while. And then there’s Alexander, who spoke to LL on Friday.

Don’t count on her vote, David Catania.

“I stand where the president stands, that the definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman,” she says, leaning heavily on the Barack Obama civil-union crutch. She adds: “We give them just about everything that they would get [with marriage] with a domestic partnership.”

And don’t think any of those fancy terms is going to change her mind: “The word ‘marriage equality’ for me doesn’t make sense. Marriage is between a man and a woman,” she says. “How more equal do they want it?”

As for it being a human rights issue, Alexander thinks not. After all, she chairs the council’s committee on aging and community affairs, which has oversight over human rights matters. The bill isn’t going to her committee, she points out, but solely to Mendelson’s judiciary committee. “No one can argue that it’s a human rights issue if it’s not going through [the] human rights [committee],” she says, adding to her concerns that “I don’t see how Congress is going to approve it.”

Regarding a ballot initiative: “I think that would be the ideal situation.”

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