WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia voters were deciding Tuesday whether former Mayor Vincent Gray will return to the D.C. Council, two years after he lost his bid for a second term as mayor amid an intensifying federal investigation.
Gray, 73, was running in a Democratic primary for a council seat representing his home ward, challenging incumbent Yvette Alexander. A victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic ward would all but assure him a return to the council, where he spent six years before being elected mayor.
Gray defeated Democrat Adrian Fenty in 2010 after the brash young mayor alienated many voters, particularly African-Americans.
Allegations of corruption in Gray’s campaign began to surface just weeks after he took office, and the U.S. attorney’s office launched an investigation that ultimately led to six guilty pleas from people who helped Gray get elected. The probe revealed that an influential businessman poured $660,000 in illegal cash into the campaign, and prosecutors said in court that Gray knew about the illicit funding scheme. Gray denied all wrongdoing, and the investigation ended in late 2015 when prosecutors decided not to charge him.
In his home ward, however, voters appeared to be skeptical of the investigation even in 2014. Although he lost that election to now-Mayor Muriel Bowser, he defeated her in the ward by a 2-to-1 margin.
“It was like a cloud that was over his campaign that was unnecessary,” said Maureen Turner, 48, who voted for Gray on Tuesday. “I thought he was a good mayor.”
Gray remains bitter about the investigation, particularly the timing of public statements by prosecutors that led many observers to believe he would soon be charged. But he said this year’s campaign has allowed him to regroup and focus his energies on public service.
“I’m moving forward,” Gray told The Associated Press as he greeted voters outside a polling place. “Otherwise, it’ll eat you alive.”
Bowser, who has a frosty relationship with Gray, greeted voters at polling places across the city, urging them to support Alexander and other Council incumbents whom she considers allies.
Alexander said this race has been the toughest of her career. But she believes she’s represented the ward better than Gray did during his time on the council or as mayor, and she said voters appear to appreciate that.
“What it boils down to is what people feel about me,” she said.
In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the nation’s final primary, which became largely meaningless last week after Clinton secured enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination. Clinton and Sanders were scheduled to meet Tuesday night amid speculation about when and under what conditions Sanders might endorse the former secretary of state and first lady.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/ben-nuckols.
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