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Vince Gray lowered himself into the shark tank for the NewsChannel 8 debate last night to face two scandal-hungry opponents, and also Jack Evans.

Ward 4 councilmember Muriel Bowser came hard at Gray over Jeff Thompson‘s allegations, but Gray tried to turn the plea around on Bowser, saying that she too called Thompson by the “Uncle Earl” alias (a claim Bowser denies).

“Don’t switch this to us,” Bowser said. “Muriel Bowser is not the subject of the U.S. Attorney. You are the subject of the U.S. Attorney.”

Tommy Wells, meanwhile, played on Gray’s friendship with currently imprisoned Gray 2010 campaign operative Thomas Gore and his micromanaging reputation as evidence that Gray knew about the shadow campaign.

Even Gray pal Evans tried to get his jab in. After saying he’d avoided bringing up the investigation, Evans said he had one question for the mayor. The “big” ask: For the good of the city, was there anything Gray could to hurry the investigation along?

But Evans, who’s been gunning for second place in the race for weeks, was more interested in attacking the mayor’s challengers than Gray himself. Evans played down Wells’ committee martyrdom at the hands of former D.C. Council chairman Kwame Brown. Wells said the rest of his Council colleagues let it happen because they’re “gutless,” but Evans had another theory.

“Maybe it’s because nobody likes you,” Evans said.

Evans also reminded Bowser that she had her own Thompson contributions to account for.

“Muriel, you’ve taken a ton of checks from him, you may want to address that,” Evans said. Helpful!

Gray and Evans both tried to move the debate away from the federal investigation, but for the most part, moderator Bruce DePuyt wasn’t interested. Bowser didn’t miss Evans’ eagerness to get past Gray’s weakest issue, cracking that Evans needs to know he can’t campaign for “vice-mayor.”

Forced to talk more shadow campaign, Gray added another dimension to his hazy memory of how he learned about the illicit effort: Apparently, his lawyer broke the news. And Gray asked his challengers to make a Thompson revelation of their own.

“If there was a quid pro quo, let’s put it on the table,” Gray said.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery