D.C. Democratic mayoral candidates debate for final time

WASHINGTON — The debate among the four top Democratic candidates for D.C. mayor on Wednesday night got heated at times, particularly when the recent scandal involving businessman Jeffrey Thompson came up.

Early on, Mayor Vince Gray was asked by moderator Bruce Johnson if he had anything new to say about the corruption accusations made by Thompson.

Earlier this month, Thompson told prosecutors he funded a shadow campaign to get Gray elected in 2010, that Gray was aware of the campaign, and that Gray even presented Thompson with a $400,000 budget.

Gray replied, “I’ve said over and over again that I did nothing; there was no wrongdoing involved in this on my part. …

“I never asked Jeff Thompson for $400,000,” Gray said. “I’ll never be — I can’t be any more direct.”

Asked whether she believes the mayor or Thompson, Muriel Bowser responded that she trusts the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

“I do believe Ron Machen. I do believe that Ron Machen has presented a lot of information. He has secured a lot of convictions related to a corrupt campaign.”

Bowser said that even if the mayor is innocent, people who live in the city are telling her they don’t trust him.

“If we are to get beyond this scandal, what residents of the District of Columbia have said is they want a fresh start.”

Jack Evans responded, “You have to remember, with Councilmember Bowser this is not going to be a fresh start. This is going to be a repeat of the Fenty administration.”

Evans says he and Gray are the only candidates who would not need on-the-job training if elected. He also had some advice for voters: “Elect the person who would be the best mayor, not somebody who can beat the current mayor.”

Tommy Wells pointed out that he is the only candidate who is not taking corporate campaign contributions. “Do you think corporations give money and expect nothing in return?” he said to the moderator. “That they’re just doing it because they want good government, Bruce? Really?”

Wells says he’s getting plenty of last-minute support.

“I’ve gotten more endorsements in the past 10 days than anybody’s gotten in the past 10 days. So there is a surge. My numbers are going up.”

Transportation was a hot topic at the debate. Wells says road conditions in the city have worsened in the last three years: “Our roads are in awful shape, and also we have not made new investment in public transit.”

Meanwhile, Evans said he wants to clamp down on speed cameras.

“Put a moratorium on speed cameras and reduce the fines to $50,” he suggested.

Bowser also wants to limit the cameras, saying that “What I’ll commit to is making sure that if we have speed cameras they’re in a place where it’s acutally going to make the street safer. What people in the District of Columbia don’t want is the government to act as a kind of a gotcha, and just a way to take their money.”

Mayor Gray insists the reason the city has speed cameras is not to generate money, adding that he has no problem letting drivers know their locations.

“It’s a public safety feature to me. I don’t care whether they know where the cameras are.”

The debate was the last one before the April 1 primary. It was hosted by WUSA, Channel 9.

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