At 1 p.m. Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray summoned his senior advisers to a conference room adjoining his office at city hall. During the previous 24 hours, another close associate had pleaded guilty and the U.S. attorney had described Gray’s 2010 campaign as corrupt.
Now, as Gray (D) addressed his team, his aides noticed that his face seemed drawn, his eyes tired. At one point, as he spoke, the mayor paused and held up his hand. Was he choking up?
Gray told his staff that he had done nothing illegal. “I wouldn’t risk that to get elected,” he said, according to three aides who were at the meeting. The District was his home, Gray told them, the place where he launched a political career. He would not quit. He would finish his term, he said, and “leave the office better than we found it.”
Even as Gray was exhorting staff members to stay focused on their work, three D.C. Council members were preparing to call for his resignation. Gray went off to a groundbreaking in Northeast Washington and then he swore in members of the Commission on Human Rights. At 10 p.m., he played in his weekly softball game, under the lights at a field off South Capitol Street. His team won 23-2, and afterward, he happily posed for photographs with the opposing team.
Across the weeks and months that scandal has shadowed his administration, the mayor has sought to project the image of a man focused squarely on his job. He’s always had a reputation for working long hours and obsessing over the minutiae of governance.
There have been near-daily mayoral appearances across the city, and his office has sent out a steady stream of news releases. “Mayor Gray Signs Landmark Bullying Prevention Act,” one release proclaimed. “Mayor Vincent C. Gray Focusing Resources on Economic Development,” another announced.
“I came here to do my job, and I will continue to do my job,” Gray told reporters Thursday night, repeating some version of that declaration no fewer than three times.
Yet, in recent days, as investigators disclosed new details about an illegal “shadow campaign,” Gray’s footing appeared to grow more tenuous by the hour. His political future — whether he should resign, whether he would be charged with a felony — became an ever-present part of the city’s chatter.
Do you awake every morning afraid that you will be “pulled away in handcuffs”? a television reporter asked Thursday.
“I’m not afraid of being pulled away in handcuffs,” the mayor replied.
On Thursday, he traveled to Children’s National Medical Center to announce the launch of an enhanced 911 system. That night, he accepted an award from the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. On Friday, he sat for an hour-long live interview on NewsChannel 8, during which he lashed out at the council members who asked for his resignation.
“I would have even appreciated something other than just a phone call,” Gray said, expressing disappointment over receiving a voice-mail message from Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) saying that she planned to ask him to step down.
Gray said that he wished he could speak more freely about his role in the 2010 campaign but that his attorney, Robert S. Bennett, advised against it. “My makeup, my propensity really is to talk, and talk as extensively as I can about issues,” he said, “so this is not really consistent with who I am.”
Then the mayor went off to the Southeast neighborhood of Congress Heights to ask more than a dozen fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to “practice civic responsibility” and refrain from selling drug paraphernalia, including rolling paper and water pipes.
“Can I come in and speak to you for a minute?” he asked the merchants, who suddenly found their shops crowded with mayoral aides, police officers, community leaders and journalists.
If Gray’s goal was to focus public attention on what he considers an important issue, that didn’t keep reporters from asking about the federal investigation and whether he could perform his duties.
“The cameras seem to be following you everywhere. Is this a distraction?” a Fox News reporter asked as Gray arrived.
“I’m doing my job,” the mayor replied.
Another reporter asked about the challenges of staying “hands-on” in a political campaign, at which point the mayor said, “Let’s stay on this issue, okay?” and, “I want to stay focused.”
“It annoys me,” he added before walking away, an apparent reference to the persistent questions.
The walking tour was organized by community activist Philip Pannell, who told the crowd at the start “it’s not every day” that the mayor of a large city will look shop owners “in the eye and say ‘Stop it!’ ”
“Thank God, and thank you, Mr. Mayor, for this day,” Pannell said as Gray smiled.