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Hoping to Mount Political Comeback, Gray Confirms Run For D.C. Council

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Former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray smiles at a question from a group of reporters after his appearance on The Kojo Nnamdi Show  on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.
Chris Chester/WAMU
Former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray smiles at a question from a group of reporters after his appearance on The Kojo Nnamdi Show  on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.

Former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray announced Thursday that he will run for the Ward 7 seat on the D.C. Council, the first step towards what he hopes is a political comeback after losing his re-election bid in 2014 to Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Speaking on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Gray confirmed longstanding rumors that he hopes to rejoin the Council, where he represented Ward 7 from 2005 to 2007 and later served as chairman.

"I've made a decision," he said. "I'm going to run for the Ward 7 seat."

Video: Gray's announcement

The announcement is the start of what could be a comeback for Gray, who lost his re-election bid amidst ongoing questions about his 2010 mayoral campaign and a long-running federal investigation into it. It could revive the political rivalry with Bowser, who he has said he could have beaten in 2014 had it not been for the investigation.

For five years federal prosecutors looked into the campaign, obtaining seven guilty pleas from his associates for helping funnel over $650,000 in illicit funds into the mayoral effort. But they were never able to connect Gray directly to what came to be known as the "shadow campaign."

Gray re-emerged in the city's political scene in December, when U.S. Attorney for D.C. Channing Phillips announced that he was ending the investigation.

Speaking on The Kojo Nnamdi Show only days after Phillips closed out the investigation, Gray confidently argued that had it not been for former U.S. Attorney Ron Machen, who led the investigation, he would have won re-election.

"That press conference was absolutely pivotal to that re-election," he said, referring to a press conference only weeks before the April 2014 primary where Machen accused Gray of knowing of the shadow campaign. "I think I would have won. Period."

Though he won't be able to get a do-over of that race anytime soon, he faces good chances in taking on incumbent Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who Gray had endorsed for the Ward 7 seat when he was elected to be Council chairman.

Gray on Yvette Alexander

According to a poll commissioned by Gray's former campaign chairman Chuck Thies in January, Gray leads Alexander 48 to 32 percent in the Ward 7 race. Ed Potillo, another candidate, took six percent, while 14 percent are undecided.

"I supported him. He supported me. He's deciding to run, I welcome him along with any other challengers," said Alexander in an interview on Thursday.

Gray said he was motivated to run for the Ward 7 seat because of complaints he said he heard about the quality of Alexander's representation of the ward.

"There's wide dissatisfaction with the representation," he said of Alexander. "[Residents are] looking for leadership that will work on the key problems in Ward 7, like economic development."

But Alexander rejected the claim that she hasn't represented the ward well.

"We work countless hours through the day and night [on constituent services]. We're at every community meeting, we answer thousands of concerns. I have a record to stand on with constituent services," she said.

But his road back to the Council may not be that easy.

This, week the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance released an audit of Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign, raising questions about hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions and expenditures that remain unexplained. And Alexander and her allies could remind voters of Gray's first six months in office, which were dogged by allegations of questionable hires and excessive salaries.

Speaking in December on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Gray said that he was too busy managing the Council to know exactly how his 2010 mayoral campaign was running.

"I rarely went to the campaign office. I spent my time trying to do my job as chairman of the Council," he said.

Should Gray defeat Alexander in the June primary and win the November general election, it could set up a political battle between him and Bowser and their respective allies on the Council. Bowser's support in the Council is tenuous, and if she loses more allies it could derail her agenda.

Speaking on Thursday, Gray said he wanted to represent the ward he has called home for decades.

"I’m a public servant at heart,” he said on Thursday. “This is an opportunity to continue to do things for people."

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