For now, say city officials and academics who study the District, it means that the new administration has been unable to communicate its vision or agenda. At a news conference Tuesday, Gray, who has yet to appoint a chief of staff to replace the one he sacked, tried to reject all questions about the scandals. But that was virtually the only topic reporters asked about.
Beyond the immediate impact on governing the city, the scandals have refocused attention on the District’s deeply divided electorate. Some historians, as well as supporters of Adrian Fenty’s, say this is exactly what the former mayor said would happen: Gray is taking the city back to the bad old days.
But many of the acts that led to the rash of allegations took place before Gray came into office, leading others to suggest that the scandals reflect instead a growing propensity among city politicians to live beyond their means, taking improper advantage of the surge in campaign cash and city contracts in recent years.
Not since the bad old days of the 1980s has the D.C. government offered its critics such a rich vein of material to support the notion that the city is run by people with an ethical blind spot. The allegations about council members abusing public dollars and about Gray’s campaign leaders giving improper payoffs and a city job to a fellow candidate have resurrected doubts that had largely been silenced during the mayoral administrations of Fenty and Anthony A. Williams.
“This is not back to the ’80s in that even then, there were not allegations of council members taking money,” said former council member William Lightfoot, a lawyer who held a top post in Fenty’s failed reelection bid last year. “Our problems in the past were different: Marion Barry was drugs, Tony Williams was the dork, Adrian was arrogant. What we’re seeing now is a reflection of a bigger problem: The elected officials think they’re entitled to a lifestyle and privileges that ordinary people do not have.”
Brown, who was embarrassed by revelations that he sought a “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator complete with a DVD entertainment system, power moon roof and polished aluminum wheels upon election to his new post last fall, also turned out to have a boat he dubbed “Bulletproof.”
“What does that tell you?” Lightfoot asked.
Some longtime political observers say the latest scandals are not strictly a D.C. story, but part of a national narrative.