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2 Candidates Enter D.C. Mayoral Race; Gray Undecided

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WASHINGTON — The field of candidates for mayor of Washington is getting more crowded, with two new candidates entering the race — neither of them the incumbent mayor, Vincent Gray.

A representative of D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange picked up nominating petitions Friday to get his name on the ballot for the April 1 Democratic primary. Orange is the fourth councilmember to enter the race, joining Democratic colleagues Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Tommy Wells.

Restaurateur Andy Shallal also picked up petitions Friday, and he told The Associated Press that he will formally announce his campaign on Tuesday. Shallal, who owns the Busboys and Poets restaurant chain, has already been raising money through an exploratory committee.

The new candidates further complicate a race that’s been mired in uncertainty because Gray hasn’t made his intentions clear. The mayor says he’s proud of his record in office, but his 2010 campaign is the subject of a long-running federal investigation, which may factor in his decision.

Shallal, a Democrat, is a Gray supporter and said he would not be running if Gray were in the race, but he’s no longer waiting for the mayor to decide.

“Once I’m in, I’m going to stay in,” said Shallal, who also launched a campaign website on Friday.

Orange was at a conference in London on Friday and did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Orange ran for mayor in 2006, receiving less than 3 percent of the vote. He has also run unsuccessfully for council chairman. He served two terms on the council, representing Ward 5, from 1999 to 2007, and he returned as an at-large councilmember in a special election in 2011.

Orange was a lead sponsor of a bill that would have forced Wal-Mart and other large retailers to pay their employees a “living wage” of at least $12.50 an hour. The bill did not survive Gray’s veto, but advocates credited the debate with sparking conversation about an increase in the city’s $8.25 minimum wage, which the council appears likely to approve.

In 2011, Orange’s bid was heavily financed by embattled businessman Jeffrey Thompson and his associates. Thompson has not been charged with a crime, but court documents show he is the subject of a grand jury investigation. He is suspected of pouring $653,000 in illicit funds into Gray’s 2010 campaign, an effort that prosecutors dubbed a “shadow campaign.” Four people who worked on Gray’s 2010 campaign — including a close Thompson associate — have pleaded guilty to felonies.

One of those campaign workers, Vernon Hawkins, went on to work for Orange’s 2011 bid. Orange acknowledged this spring that he provided records related to his campaigns to federal investigators.

Orange has not started raising money or filed papers with the city’s Office of Campaign Finance. Chuck Thies, a political consultant and commentator who’s worked on several District of Columbia campaigns, said it was too soon to consider Orange a full-fledged candidate.

“It’s a way for him to dip his toe in the pond, get his name in the paper, flex some political muscle, but not be as deeply into the campaign as possible,” Thies said.

In previous elections, Orange has drawn support from predominantly black, low-to-moderate income neighborhoods — the same parts of the city that propelled Gray to victory in 2010 over then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Shallal, 58, is making his first run for public office. He was born in Iraq and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 10.

Shallal said he was concerned about a lack of leadership from the city’s elected officials, including Gray, on issues affecting the 20 percent of district residents who are living in poverty.

“If we were a family of five and one of our family members was destitute, we wouldn’t say we were on the right track,” Shallal said.

Of the declared candidates, Evans has raised the most money, while Bowser has the most left to spend. Other candidates include former State Department official Reta Lewis, businessman Christian Carter and frequent candidate Nestor Djonkam.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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