The circumstances and wording vary, but the thrust of a regular question to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is always the same: Will you seek re-election?

And the scandal-plagued mayor's answer is just as predictable: He's focused on the District's business, a federal investigation is ongoing, and the time for politics will come later.

"Anybody that focuses specifically on a term of office is not a visionary," Gray said last week after a reporter asked him if he'd be in office long enough to see a five-year economic development plan come to fruition. "Anybody who is a leader is going to want to paint a picture for the future, whatever role they're going to play in that future."

Political observers say not to expect a firm answer soon from Gray, even with the 2012 election cycle finished and no end in sight for the sweeping federal probe that has ensnared his campaign.

"He's 18 months away from a Democratic primary, and no incumbent needs to launch a re-election campaign at least 18 months in advance," said Chuck Thies, a political consultant who informally advised Gray in the past.

But Mo Elleithee, a top strategist for Gray's 2010 campaign, said Gray should consider revealing his plans in the first half of 2013.SClB"It was totally appropriate to wait until after the November elections," Elleithee said. "It makes a lot of sense for him to make up his mind by this spring."

Gray's own political history suggests he could delay an announcement and emerge victorious. Gray did not disclose his candidacy in the 2010 mayoral race, which pitted him against an incumbent, until March of that year, even though the Democratic primary was in September.

Gray won that race by 10 percentage points.

Even though Gray trounced incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty, his next campaign is all but certain to be more difficult.

While he has been lauded for his management of the city, authorities have secured guilty pleas from three of his 2010 campaign aides.

Two of the officials acknowledged misconduct linked to a series of illegal payments to a fringe mayoral candidate, while a third person said she helped implement a $653,800 shadow campaign to help elect Gray.

Although Gray has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, the scandals have sent his popularity plummeting to levels not seen in the District in decades. A Washington Post poll earlier this year put his approval rating at 29 percent.

"This investigation and all the problems that emerged from the last campaign have dealt a serious blow to his relationship with voters. Public trust is rattled," Elleithee said. "He has time to rebuild it, but the window is closing rapidly."