But those residents also agree that they are embarrassed by the behavior of their elected officials and have a nagging fear of going back to the bad old days, when Congress seized control of city agencies after its leaders amassed a $722 million budget deficit and drove its credit rating to junk. Violent crime was rampant, and the city was the butt of a national joke.
It emerged from six years of federal control on stronger fiscal footing, but now many wonder whether the new ethical lapses could undermine the progress.
Last week was particularly difficult for the city’s leaders. At a D.C. Council hearing investigating his administration, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was called a “crook” by a man who was a fringe candidate in last year’s mayoral race and who has repeatedly said he was paid by Gray’s campaign staff to bash then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Gray has denied wrongdoing.
Prosecutors revealed that they were going after council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), whose chief of staff had pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes and lying to investigators. Graham has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The city’s attorney general on Monday accused council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) of funneling city money to groups he controlled, using the cash for golf outings, a ballpark suite and a $69,000 Audi sport-utility vehicle. Thomas has said he will be “vindicated.’’ And on Friday, city campaign finance authorities charged Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s 2008 campaign committee with failing to report hundreds of donations and expenditures worth $270,000. Brown has stressed that all funds were accounted for and were spent on campaign-related expenses.
Although the practical consequences have been slight, the residents say, the recent drumbeat of scandal has tarnished the city’s image and fueled a deep anxiety about its future.
“My life really hasn’t been impacted at all,” said James Lovely, 74, who lives in Thomas’s ward. But, he adds, “I’m disappointed. . . . It certainly doesn’t look good. It doesn’t feel good to see all of this happening. What’s so bad about it is that they are hurting the city, really hurting the city, not just hurting themselves.”
Others expressed concern that a decade of growth that transformed the city’s neighborhoods, improved its services and raised its global stature could come to an end.
More pointedly, some wonder whether the city is headed back toward the state of crisis in the period that included Mayor Marion Barry’s 1991 drug arrest and the 1995 congressional takeover of city government.
“In the early ’90s, you had a similar feeling, but back then you had much more of a crisis atmosphere of financial degradation,” said Max J. Brown, a former top aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who led the city from 1999 to 2007.