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WASHINGTON - By January of 2012, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray had knowledge of an illegal shadow campaign during the 2010 election, The Washington Post reports.
The report comes just hours after three D.C. councilmembers called for the mayor's resignation, following an admission by campaign consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris that she helped orchestrate a financial scam to get Gray elected.
It also marks the first time there's been evidence that Gray knew about the illegal activity before March raids on the homes and offices of Harris and businessman Jeffrey Thompson.
Thompson, who has not been charged, is believed to be the source of $650,000 in off-the-books expenses used for consultants, supplies and other expenses supporting Gray in his election bid against former Mayor Adrian Fenty. Harris has admitted to funneling illicit funds through her public relations firm as part of what prosecutors call a "shadow campaign."
The Post says Harris confirmed that she and Gray met Jan. 10 in the John A. Wilson Building, and that sources say the meeting was about the 2010 race and subsequent investigations of Gray's campaign. Sources tell the Post Gray and Harris talked about the shadow expenditures, and Gray later told Harris to submit spending records to his staff.
On Wednesday afternoon, D.C. Councilmembers David Catania (I-At Large), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) called for Gray to resign in the wake of Harris' guilty plea in federal court.
"Whether he knew or not about the shadow campaign, the revelations from yesterday are such that the mayor should resign," Catania said. "There is enough evidence to verify that his campaign was involved in the largest single criminal conspiracy in the history of modern home rule when it comes to electoral politics."
Cheh weighed in after Catania.
"Today, I join Councilmember Catania in calling on Mayor Gray to resign," she said. "Whether or not he knew of the massive election fraud that was taking place in his name, he is responsible for it."
Bowser was the third councilmember to join the call for Gray's resignation.
"It's very clear the mayor is distracted. In the best interest of the city he should resign," she said.
Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro responded to the councilmembers' calls Wednesday night, saying Catania's remarks were "the kind of irresponsible talk we've come to expect" from the councilmember.
"It's disappointing, however, that a constitutional scholar of Cheh's caliber would call for a resignation before investigation is complete," Ribeiro added.
Mo Elleithee, a senior adviser to Gray's campaign, also came to the mayor's defense, saying Gray was "betrayed" by "bad actors."
"Many of them were his longtime friends and associates," Elleithee said.
Catania, who says he is not planning to run for mayor or council chairman, says it does not matter whether the outcome of the election would have been different.
"We have to guard very carefully the institution of democracy and the rules that we adopt for participation and involvement," Catania said. "This calls into question the legitimacy of his election and his legitimacy as mayor."
Gray spoke briefly about Harris' guilty plea earlier on Wednesday at a press conference held to criticize what he called Pepco's "unacceptable" service restoration rate.
"This is not the campaign that we intended to run," he said. "I have said to many, many people that I got into this [mayoral race] for the right reasons.
"I think it's unfair to say our administration [is corrupt.] I have distinguished between the campaign and the administration."
Catania says Gray's comments sound as though "he seems to think he is the victim here."
Gray says he has no intentions of stepping down.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)