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Vince Gray couldn’t win his own race, but maybe he can help one of his ex-staffers win hers. At a quiet mayoral farewell party yesterday at Ben’s Chili Bowl, Gray endorsed former deputy chief of staff Sheila Bunn to replace Marion Barry on the D.C. Council.

“He basically said that he believes in me and he thought that I would be the perfect choice for the Ward 8 city councilmember,” says Bunn, who describes Gray’s endorsement as “totally unexpected but definitely appreciated.”

Gray’s endorsement further sets up the brewing fight in the April 28 special election between Gray supporters for Bunn and Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s Green Team, which has lined up behind former Bowser Ward 8 coordinator LaRuby May. (May describes Bowser as a “supporter,” although the mayor hasn’t made a public endorsement in the race).

Mayoral endorsements usually get a bigger audience than one or two dozen Gray loyalists at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Bowser brought ex-mayor Anthony Williams to the high-profile Palisades Parade a day after he backed her, and a swathe of candidates touted Barry’s endorsement last year.

But then, neither of those ex-mayors was facing a potential federal indictment. Bunn says she’s not sure whether Gray will campaign with her in the ward, which he won by nearly 30 percent in the Democratic primary.

Outside the party, Gray declined to comment to LL on the grounds that he was “going to Ben’s,” which is one of the more reasonable excuses to refuse an interview that LL has heard.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery