“We told you so.”
Throughout the 2010 mayoral campaign, Fenty supporters claimed that a victory by his chief rival, then-D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, would mean a return to rampant government corruption. Give Gray the keys to the Big House, they said, and in no time there would be a bunch of conniving, jiving and lying old cronies plundering taxpayer money.
I doubted that.
But Gray has played right into their hands. Even before the glow of his swearing-in wore off . . .
Here comes Sulaimon Brown.
By now, the story is fairly well known, if no less ridiculous. Brown, a mayoral candidate and former security guard with a business degree from the University of the District of Columbia, was paid by Team Gray to attack Fenty on the campaign trail. He was also rewarded with a $110,000-a-year mayoral appointment as “special assistant” in the Department of Health Care Finance.
Not only does the department handle about $322 million, roughly a third of the city budget, but the chairman of the D.C. Committee on Health Budget and Oversight is Councilman David Catania, Gray’s archenemy on the D.C. council.
After a month on the job, Brown gets fired and goes on a tell-all rant that now seems likely to topple the Gray administration.
I swear, Vince.
If the mayor thought he was slick enough to play political poker with a card up his sleeve, he should have at least used an ace. Not a joker. And even a novice knows not to drop the card in a game with the U.S. attorney looking on.
Throw in former D.C. councilman Harry Thomas, who pleaded guilty to stealing money earmarked for children’s sports programs (he used some of it buy a motorcycle) and former council chairman Kwame Brown, who pleaded guilty to cheating on a bank application (he bought a boat), and the stereotype of a crooked, money-grubbing politician has been served up on a silver platter.
Nevertheless, Gray accomplished his most important task. He defeated Fenty and sent the snarky schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, packing. And the myopics still don’t see why.
Too busy tweeting flash-mob snowball fights and guzzling imported beers at urban sandy beach bars, they neither heard nor saw those standing on the precipice of the city’s ever-widening economic chasm. For many of the most vulnerable residents, that vote against Fenty amounted to a single-fingered salute to the leader of the twits as they were being pushed over the edge.
How could the myopics even imagine that the city was “headed in the right direction” under Fenty, as polls showed?
The District’s poverty rate shot up to its highest level in a decade, and the employment rate for African American adults dropped to a 20-year low. One in three black children were living in poverty. The income gap was among the highest in the nation.
The solution? Get rid of the poor people, kick them out of the city. Without them in the classroom, Rhee could claim that her “tiger mom” style of teaching was working because test scores were rising.
Gray, in addition to defeating Fenty, was supposed to have given voice to the suffering and find ways of bridging the city’s racial and economic divide on their behalf. His supporters knew that, in essence, there wasn’t much difference in Gray and Fenty’s economic scheme for the city. During Gray’s two years, more bike paths have been carved out, not fewer. More play areas for pets. More “green alleys.”
What he has not been able to do is effectively advocate on behalf of have-nots. Talk about hiring D.C. residents for construction work in the city, focusing more attention on job training and — most importantly — adult literacy, has been all but drowned out by the corruption scandal.
But there is a silver lining. By the time U.S. Attorney Ron Machen finishes his job — uncovering corruption in Gray’s campaign financing and ferreting out other crooked dealings throughout city hall — the District’s political life starts anew.
Even as the prosecutors’ light illuminates Gray’s so-called “shadow campaign,” the myopics would do well to open their eyes to the shadow city in their midst. Predicting sleazy behavior is not the same as having insight.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man may be king. But it’s still only one eye.
To read previous columns by Courtland Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.