In working the streets and the phones to figure out where our nascent mayoral campaign is headed, I realized I was dealing with two realities — parallel universes, if you prefer.
In one, council members battle it out to win the executive branch's top job. Ward 4's Muriel Bowser announced her candidacy first. After exploring a possible run for many months, last weekend Tommy Wells from Ward 6 threw his hat in the ring. We now have two official candidates. We might have a third, if Jack Evans joins the contest. We might have a fourth, in at-large Council member David Catania.
There may be more contenders for next year's primary and general election. Who knows?
In the parallel universe, Mayor Vincent Gray decides one term is not enough, and he decides to run for a second four-year stint. If Gray runs, all the advantages of the incumbent are at his disposal. And despite the federal investigation hanging over his head, he immediately becomes hard to beat.
Against stern warnings from many sources and political operatives, I am predicting Gray runs. Here's why.
U.S. Attorney Ron Machen's investigation into Gray's 2010 campaign seemed to herald the mayor's political demise. Last July the prosecutor said the city's 2010 campaign "was corrupted" by $650,000 that went into a Gray campaign "shadow" account. Three council members called on Gray to resign. A poll showed a majority of voters felt the same way. Three of his trusted campaign aides pleaded guilty to crimes connected to the campaign.
But Machen has not connected Gray to the dirty money. Scandals that take place early in a politician's term can run their course and be less of a factor in re-election. That could operate in Gray's favor, if Machen cannot connect Gray to the corrupt cash.
Inside Gray's political bunker, he is telling associates and aides that he was not aware of the "shadow campaign." He's convinced his staff that he will not be implicated in the probe. Meanwhile, Machen's investigation has broadened far beyond Gray's campaign to an array of potentially corrupt practices involving the lottery contract and the financial dealings of businessman and city contractor Jeff Thompson.
One piece of bad news for Gray came from sources who said that Vernon Hawkins, Gray's longtime friend and early supporter, might be cooperating with federal investigators. Hawkins helped run the "shadow campaign." If anyone can tie Gray to the corrupt cash, it's Hawkins. Machen's office would not confirm the report.
But if Gray avoids indictment or implication in Machen's probe, he can roll out all the good news. D.C.'s homicide rate is down, development is up, jobless rates are down, the budget surplus is up. He has renovated schools and playgrounds. School reforms are progressing.
My guess is Gray runs. The parallel political universes join later this summer, and we are treated to an all-out political war -- as we deserve.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at email@example.com.