Washington’s ‘Turkeys of the Year’ stuffed foolishness aplenty into 2011

Robert McCartney
Columnist November 23, 2011

A year ago, I dodged doing any actual, serious reporting during Thanksgiving week by writing a column picking the Washington region’s “Turkeys of the Year.”

Why not make it a tradition?

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

The awards recognize outstanding acts of foolishness, incompetence and other self-defeating or outrageous behavior.

Rereading last year’s column, it seems that 2011 fell short of 2010 in displays of blatant ineptitude in our area. Nobody this year equaled the performance of Jack Johnson, the No. 1 winner a year ago. The then Prince George’s county executive told his wife to hide bribe money in her underwear while the FBI listened in on a wiretap.

Last year also featured Michaele and Tareq Salahi. Enough said.


Mayor Vincent Gray’s time in office has ranged from utterly disastrous to the merely uninspired, says columnist Robert McCartney. (Bill O'Leary/The Post)

Still, there’s been sufficient folly to justify a sequel. Here are the 2011 “honorees”:

Leslie Johnson. Jack’s wife had the gall to try to remain in office as a Prince George’s County Council member after pleading guilty to a felony in federal court in her husband’s corruption case.

She hoped to continue collecting about $1,850 per week in pretax income until her sentencing. Enough uproar ensued that she got away with it for only a month.

Dan Snyder. The Redskins owner miraculously avoided being listed last year. He’s here now for filing a lame libel suit in February against Washington City Paper over a lengthy article enumerating his missteps.

The suit overreached in several ways but especially by claiming that the weekly’s cover illustration was anti-Semitic. The scribbled drawing merely made Snyder look like a child’s version of a devil. The accompanying article didn’t mention he was Jewish.

Snyder withdrew the suit just in time for the fall football season. Result: The lawsuit drew vast additional attention to the offending article.

Washington area snow response. The Jan. 26 storm made a mockery of the region’s preparedness. A snowfall of three to five inches created such havoc that many commuters needed eight to 12 hours to get home.

We get an honorable mention for blowing the August earthquake as well.

Kwame Brown. In one of his first acts as D.C. Council chairman, Brown (D) ordered a “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator SUV at taxpayers’ expense. Then he demanded a replacement, because the car had tan leather seats and he’d asked for black.

The cost was nearly $2,000 a month as the city struggled to overcome a deficit. (He gave the request up.)

Apple store employees in Bethesda. On a tragic note: While Jayna Murray was being brutally murdered next door at the Lululemon Athletica store in March, two Apple workers stood by an adjoining wall and listened to the commotion.

They heard “screaming and yelling,” “hysterical noises” and the sound of something heavy being dragged, according to court testimony.

They did nothing. They returned to work. They thought it was just “some drama.”

A call to 911, a walk next door or even a shout through the wall might have saved a life.

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The board overseeing Dulles International and Reagan National airports so mishandled its spending recommendations that it nearly killed the project to extend Metrorail to Dulles.

The authority ignored warnings from officials and politicians of both parties, who stressed it was vital to hold down costs. Instead, the board pushed hard for a high-priced, underground station at Dulles. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had to step in to resolve the mess.

Dick Saslaw. The Virginia state Senate majority leader predicted definitively in August that his Democrats would retain control of the chamber in the November elections. He said GOP candidates were too conservative and boasted that the Democrats had used their control of redistricting to protect their majority.

“We just cinched our coming back into the majority,” Saslaw said. “It’s over.”

Way premature. The GOP picked up two seats to make it 20-20. With Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling breaking ties, the GOP has effective control of the Senate.

Columnist Robert McCartney. Admittedly, my predictions in the same election were less than stellar. I erred the other way and underestimated the Democrats. I suggested the Republicans would win an outright Senate majority of 21 seats or more. In the Fairfax School Board races, I implied that candidates endorsed by the GOP would fare better than they did.

(Like last year, I figure if I’m going to fault others, I should confess a shortcoming of my own.)

And now, the No. 1 Turkey of the Year:

Vince Gray. It pains me to say it, because I like the guy. But the choice is clear. The District mayor’s first 11 months in office have ranged from the utterly disastrous to the merely uninspired.

After campaigning successfully against Adrian Fenty’s cronyism, Gray (D) was instantly humiliated when five adult children of top staffers and advisers landed jobs in the new administration. (Four are gone.) Poor vetting forced him to withdraw several high-level nominations. His campaign remains under federal investigation in the Sulaimon Brown affair.

Even if Gray is able to put things right, the scandals squandered the positive momentum he enjoyed following last year’s landslide victory.

Cash in the bra in 2010 versus hiring controversies in 2011 . What a contrast. Maybe the region’s moving in the right direction.

I’m taking the long weekend off. My column resumes next Thursday.

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