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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray gives his State of the District speech last year. Federal prosecutors are now alleging he knew about the shadow campaign. Hatchet File Photo.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray gives his State of the District speech last year. Federal prosecutors are now alleging he knew about the shadow campaign. Hatchet File Photo.

Federal prosecutors said Monday that Mayor Vincent Gray had asked for the help of D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson before he illegally funnelled more than a half-million dollars into Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, The Washington Post reported.

Thompson pled guilty to two conspiracy counts Monday, including the financing of a $668,800 shadow campaign for Gray’s first mayoral bid between May and September 2010 – a figure that was higher than previously reported. Prosecutors said that Gray had met with Thompson several times and helped keep Thompson’s identity a secret by calling him “Uncle Earl.”

Gray said Monday that he used the nickname to keep Thompson’s identity a secret from former mayor Adrian Fenty, who also received money. Gray has repeatedly denied knowledge of the fund, though he publicly apologized for the 2010 campaign after launching his reelection bid in January.

He dismissed prosecutor’s charges when talking to a Washington Post reporter Monday.

“It’s shocking to me. Lies. These are lies,” Gray said, adding that Thompson implicated him to lessen the time he’d have to spend in prison.

“The only thing I can tell people is what has been and continues to be the truth for me, and you know what that is. I don’t need to repeat that for the 933rd time,” Gray said.

Thompson could have faced 18 months in prison but as a result of the plea, he will face at most six months in prison and a three-year supervised release.

Thompson’s court appearance, as well as the documents, unveil a tangled web of funding to federal and local political campaigns, which totalled more than $2 million. The cash also went toward Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and Council member Vincent Orange’s 2011 At-Large Council campaign.

Thompson gave money to at least 13 federal candidates – including D.C.’s delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton – between 2006 and 2010, according to the documents.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen described the court appearance as a “major turning point” though he said there were “varying degrees of knowledge” about the funds among the candidates who received funding from Thompson. Machen declined to comment if Gray had cooperated with the investigation.

“What you learned about today was only the tip of the iceberg,” Machen said, adding there was no timeline to release more information about Gray before April’s Democratic mayoral primary.

Thompson said at the hearing that Orange – who is also running for mayor – did not know about the fund.

In a release, Gray’s campaign manager Chuck Thies cautioned about the “innuendo” of the charges.

“The Jeffrey Thompson charging document should be read carefully. Common misconceptions espoused by our opponents and echoed in the media are not substantiated in the Jeffrey Thompson charging documents. Read carefully,” Thies said.

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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Hatchet File Photo

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Hatchet File Photo

It’s day eight of the government shutdown, and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray warned the Obama administration that the city is barely holding on.

Gray penned a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, demanding that he free “innocent bystanders,” like District residents, from the shutdown order.

“Time is running out,” Gray said. “I have done all I possibly can to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of District residents is not endangered by a crisis that our city has had no hand in creating.”

The mayor, who is an alumnus, has adamantly opposed the shutdown. He ordered D.C. agencies last week to remain open, even though the city’s checkbook technically closed Oct. 1.

Gray argued that because D.C. does not have a vote in Congress, its residents – and its budget – should not be impacted by the fiscal crisis.

The House passed a bill last week allowing city leaders to spend tax dollars during the shutdown, but the Senate blocked the measure. The bill would have relieved the District until Dec. 15.

So far, Gray has scraped together funds to remain open despite the shutdown, though the city’s $140 million reserve fund may soon drain from the city’s emergency budget.

Employee paychecks totaling $98 million are due Oct. 15.

In a Tuesday press conference, Obama renewed his call for the House to pass legislation ending the shutdown. “Let’s stop the excuses,” Obama said.

Gray will head to the Hill on Monday, flanked by D.C. council members and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to continue laying out his demands.

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This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Tiana Pigford.

Fifty years after civil rights trail blazers demanded racial equality on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, their children and grandchildren joined thousands of others Saturday to commemorate their struggle.

On GW’s move-in day, more than 50 students were part of the anniversary march across the National Mall, sharing stories of the challenges their ancestors faced as immigrants or as members of ethnic or racial minorities.

Senior Danica Brown, president of the Black Student Union, said the original march impacted her parents, who emigrated from Jamaica and had their outlook on civil rights shaped by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

But, Brown said, “today is not just about Dr. King’s speech. It’s about the mobilization of people all over the country and all over the world and being inspired.”

Demonstrators started off at the D.C. War Memorial, where Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., declared the fight for equality far from over, especially in the District. The officials spoke out for D.C. statehood and congressional voting rights.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., spoke out for D.C. statehood rights Saturday. Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

Attorney General Eric Holder and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also spoke during events throughout the day.

Bryson Thomas, director of multicultural affairs for the Student Association, said he took part in the march to honor his grandparents, who were expelled from schools in New Orleans because of their race.

Marchers from across the country bore signs and sported t-shirts that blasted the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to strike down a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman of murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. Both events stirred national discourse over the summer about race, including a candid speech from President Barack Obama, who will speak Wednesday on the anniversary of King’s speech.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion coordinated the GW-led group, which included members of the University’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Racially and Ethnically Mixed Student Association.

Camille Milton, a freshman from Indiana, said the event helped take note of political issues like minimum wage laws.

“There are so many issues that need to be addressed, and you can’t just do that by talking to your friends about it. I’m glad that I can physically be here and not just think about it from home,” she said.

Whitney Dixon, the leader of the NAACP chapter at GW, echoed political commentators when she said many of the problems brought to the national agenda in 1963 were still unresolved.

“We should always be working towards progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that things had been better than his ancestors, but he wanted the best. He wanted change. It didn’t matter if it seemed unrealistic. He wanted that dream and that’s why I’m here today,” Dixon said.

Thousands gathered on the National Mall on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

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Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this weekend. Hatchet file photo

The historic March on Washington not only changed a national conversation about race, but also paved the way for mass demonstrations to actually affect policy, the District’s delegate to Congress said this week.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was 26 years old and living in D.C. during the march, told PBS NewsHour Wednesday that the 200,000-person march was “the dawning of a new era.”

“Now, that mold has set the pattern for marches that are held on every conceivable subject today,” Norton said. “It broke open the notion that mass movements couldn’t happen. We had just come out of the fifties, which were the most complacent of decades.”

That summer in 1963, Norton joined civil rights leader Bayard Rustin in D.C. to help organize the march.

“We had no precedent to follow. The officials in Washington, from the president on down, were very afraid of what they hadn’t seen before. They would have preferred that there be no March on Washington,” Norton said.

The city is gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the march this weekend, with Norton slated to participate in multiple events, including the “March for Jobs and Justice” on the Mall, which will culminate in a speech by President Barack Obama.

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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has served as the District’s representative in Congress since 1991, has celebrated multiple moves by the federal government to grant the city budget autonomy. Hatchet File Photo

A Senate committee signed off on a bill Thursday freeing up the District’s tax dollars without congressional approval – the latest legal success that could allow for greater budget autonomy.

While the measure clashes with a spending bill in the House of Representatives, it comes days after Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. introduced a separate bill Tuesday to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act and allow the city to spend funds without congressional approval.

D.C. has historically aligned its fiscal year with the federal government’s on Oct. 1, but most states begin July 1 to allow for school budget use.

“The District has now moved closer to budget autonomy than ever in its history,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said of the Senate bill in a statement Friday. She is the District’s lone, nonvoting representative in Congress.

The city’s budget autonomy referendum, which was approved in April, will also go into effect next year after Congress allowed the legislative review period to expire this week.

Congress could pass a law nullifying the referendum retrospectively, but the Post reported President Barack Obama and the Democrat-lead Senate are unlikely to support such action.

The House bill, which a committee advanced last week, also cuts federal funding for D.C. by 6 percent. The other chamber’s proposal slightly increased funding, which makes up about 2 percent of the District’s budget and mostly pays for its court system.

The Senate committee measure would also end a restriction on D.C. from spending taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions for low-income women, but the House bill leaves the ban intact.

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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has served as the District’s lone delegate to Congress since 1991, lashed out at a Republican congressman this week for his plans to propose a bill that would ban the city’s traffic camera system. Hatchet File Photo.

A Republican congressman from Michigan is moving forward with a bill to ban traffic cameras in D.C., which the city’s sole representative in Congress has attacked as an intrusion into local affairs.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. is fighting against  the possible legislation by Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., which would ban red light and speed cameras.

“In the District of Columbia, like everywhere else, local traffic laws are written by local elected officials, not members of Congress who are unaccountable to D.C. residents,” Norton said in a release.

“If Representative Bentivolio wants to write local traffic rules, he should resign from Congress and run for local office in Michigan,” she added.

Bentivolio has not yet introduced the bill, but found two co-sponsors, Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, a spokesman for Norton wrote in an email Thursday.

Norton has railed against his effort as the “anti self-government” bill.

A dozen states have tried to outlaw their speed camera systems, which are used by hundreds of jurisdictions in 24 states, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Proponents claim the cameras allow police officers to focus on other crimes, while skeptics argue they can deprive drivers of due process.

A survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety earlier this year found that the majority of D.C. residents — 87 percent — supported the use of red-light cameras and 76 percent supported the speed camera system.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray, told the DCist that the camera system has helped lower traffic fatalities in the city by 73 percent since 2001. Speed and red-light cameras also generated $85 million in revenue during the last fiscal year.

The draft bill comes as home-rule advocates have long fought to obtain a voting representative in Congress or even have the federal government grant the District statehood. Residents voted overwhelmingly in April to give D.C. power to spend its own tax dollars without congressional approval, but lawmakers can still push bills, such as the 2012 effort to ban abortions after 20 weeks, if they do not live in the District.

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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., will propose legislation next week that would expose Congress members’ salaries to the nation’s automatic spending cuts, which took effect this month. Hatchet File Photo

The District’s delegate to Congress plans to introduce legislation next week that would slice Congress members’ salaries along with the nation’s other cuts in federal spending.

After the $86 billion in self-imposed cuts that struck the country March 1, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., wants to see a chunk taken out of legislators’ salaries, according to a Tuesday press release.

Norton is one of several legislators who has already pledged to take a pay cut, along with alumnus Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Norton pledged to donate a day’s pay for each day members of her office staff and federal employees are put on temporary unpaid leave this year because of the sequestration. She will donate the money to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides loans to financially struggling employees, and to her own office.

Sequestration law, outlined in 1985, exempts the U.S. president’s salary from across-the-board spending cuts, but Congress members’ pay is technically fair game.

The Office of Management and Budget has interpreted the law in a way that exempts legislators’ salaries, according to the release from Norton’s office, but the budgets for their individual offices are subject to the same cuts as federal agencies.

“The effects of the sequester are going to be felt everywhere, especially in this region,” Norton said at a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting on March 20. “Who will really get clobbered? All federal employees.”

The congresswoman highlighted these workers, calling them “the most educated and specialized” in the U.S., who are headed toward pay reductions this month added to three years of freezes in pay.

The proposed bill would take effect in the next Congress if passed.

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This post was written by Hatchet reporter Tiana Pigford.

At least 1,000 people from across the country marched down Constitution Avenue Saturday, led by about 100 Newtown, Conn.-area residents, to advocate for stricter gun control legislation.

Blocking off streets, the group walked in silence and held signs reading the names of gun violence victims.

“I don’t want to take away anyone’s rights to protect themselves,” said Newtown resident Sandy Goldsberry, whose daughter was in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, when a shooter killed 26 students and staff members. “But I don’t think anyone needs semiautomatic weapons.”

After the 12-block trek, demonstrators gathered on the National Mall to hear from activists, victims, performers and elected officials. Each time a speaker called for an assault weapons ban or universal background checks, there was a thunder of applause, as Newtown residents – positioned in front of the stage – standing to their feet.

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to the podium, he said he spoke as a father and as someone who grew up knowing victims of gun violence in Chicago. He recalled later leading the city’s public schools, and remembering the students in his district who died each year from gunshot wounds.

“I used to have a drawing on my desk from a child,” Duncan said. “It said, ‘If I grow up, I want to be a fireman.’ ‘If I grow up.’ Far too many children are growing up in an environment where they are scared. Our country deserves better than that.”

The march had been put together in less than a month, led by D.C. activists and a grassroots organization called One Million Moms for Gun Control. Molly Smith, the artistic director of  D.C.’s Arena Stage, launched the event through a Facebook page.

Participants also heard from Collin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

“The only answer is a national, federal solution and let’s work hard to make that happen,” Gray, an alumnus, said. He pointed out that while D.C.’s gun laws are among the nation’s tightest, weapons can enter the city’s borders from states with less stringent regulation.

A handful of anti-gun control activists, representing the Libertarian Party of Virginia, lined the participants’ route.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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Mary Cheh represents Ward 3 on the D.C. Council and teaches constitutional law at GW. Hatchet File Photo

D.C. Council member and GW Law School professor Mary Cheh will meet with White House representatives Friday to implore President Barack Obama to display the phrase “Taxation Without Representation” on the presidential limousine’s license plates.

The Ward 3 council member – whose constituency includes American University, Foxhall and Chevy Chase – and chairman Phil Mendelson will attend the meeting, after the Council unanimously passed an emergency resolution Tuesday regarding the tags, according to a release.

The council has asked Obama to affix the plates for the Jan. 21 inaugural parade.

President Bill Clinton brandished plates bearing the phrase during his second term in office, but President George W. Bush did not during either of his terms.

D.C. mayors must obtain congressional approval to spend tax dollars. The District’s delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has the right to vote on committee cases, but not on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Alumnus and Mayor Vincent Gray, Norton and D.C. council members launched a nationwide campaign for statehood last November, which included a centralized website, Metro bus advertisements and pleas to state legislatures for support.

The movement made headway in 1978, when Congress passed the District of Columbia Voting Right Amendment, but only 16 of the required 38 states ratified the proposal. Norton has introduced several bills on D.C. statehood and representation since she entered office in 1991.

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Updated Dec. 4, 2012, 4:28 p.m.

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Kirstie Murr.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton implored students to take advantage of GW’s free HIV testing and help prevent the disease’s spread during a World AIDS Day vigil Saturday.

The District’s delegate in Congress said proper medical practices will help combat the sickness that affects millions, but all should take precautions.

“Getting tested is itself some kind of stigma and that is what we are trying to erase,” Norton said to the gathering of about 35 people. “Unless we do so, we cannot erase this disease.”

Norton said HIV-related deaths in D.C. have dropped in half since 2008, with a 75 percent drop in the number of HIV cases stemming from injection drug use. The congresswoman called the city an “epicenter” of HIV/AIDS activism.

vigil, AIDS,

Students gather in Kogan Plaza for a World AIDS Day candlelight vigil  Saturday. Cameron Lancaster | Hatchet Photographer

GW Student Global AIDS Campaign and Grassroots Colonials organized the evening vigil in Kogan Plaza, raising awareness of the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, according to the World Health Organization estimates.

“I certainly hope it will bring more awareness,” Samuel Garrett, co-chapter leader and policy director of GW Student Global AIDS Campaign, said. “The fight against AIDS has always been important to me and working with this group is a great opportunity to continue in that fight and to continue here on campus in the global fight against AIDS.”

Garrett’s organization was part of student coalition that led GW to offer free HIV testing clinics through Student Health Service starting this October.

This post was updated Dec. 4, 2012 to reflect the following:

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a co-chair of the congressional HIV/AIDS caucus, and Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Students Peter Konwerski also attended the vigil. In fact, they were guests at last year’s vigil but did not attend this year. We regret this error.

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