Howard councilman loses NACo bid Gray sought position with lobbying group

July 17, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray lost his bid for a leadership job with a powerful national lobbying group yesterday, leaving behind only ethical questions about a campaign that proved unsuccessful.

By a margin of about 1 percent, Gray lost the election for second vice president -- and eventually president -- of the National Association of Counties (NACo), which finished a five-day convention in Houston with yesterday's vote.

To pay for his campaign, Gray sought $1,000 donations from 50 companies -- including Comcast Cablevision, which the County Council regulates. The fund-raising effort drew the attention of the county's Ethics Commission, which began scrutinizing it Monday night.

The commission reached no decision, but plans to continue its study at a meeting Aug. 20. "We're still trying to refine and review the issues," said Chairman Russell Gledhill. "No conclusions were reached."

NACo is mostly a lobbying group representing the nation's 3,000 counties. The winner of yesterday's election immediately becomes part of the group's leadership and becomes president in 1999.

Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, lost by a vote of 2,069 to 2,019 to Richard Cecil, a Republican from New Castle County, Del.

Gray did not return phone messages left at his hotel in Houston yesterday.

"I'm sorry he didn't win," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican who supported Gray's use of some county staff, envelopes and postage for his campaign. Gray, past president of the Maryland Association of Counties, has been a board member for the national association for 10 years.

In his campaign to become second vice president of the group, Gray had spent thousands of dollars of his own money flying to conventions of county officials in California, New York, Georgia, Florida, Minnesota and West Virginia. He also had driven to conventions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

To cover those expenses, he asked 50 companies around the country -- including Comcast -- for $1,000 checks. He assured them all that the donations need not be reported under state election laws, which cover only campaigns for public office.

County ethics law, however, prohibits officials from soliciting money unless it is for a state-regulated campaign for public office.

Gray has said he was simply raising money for a political campaign. He said letters from the Maryland Attorney General's Office and the county's Office of Law convinced him the fund-raising was legal but did not require disclosure.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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