A Virginia state senator mocked the legal troubles of D.C. politicians at a meeting in Alexandria on Tuesday night, saying “there’s got to be a shuttle bus between the penitentiary and [the D.C.] Council” after scandals involving city lawmakers and describing Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) as “up to his ass in alligators.”
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax), the Senate majority leader, attacked fellow Democrats while briefing the Alexandria City Council on an ethics bill that was watered down and then passed in Virginia’s recently concluded legislative session.
Saslaw said, as he has before, that you can’t force politicians to behave more ethically simply by passing legislation. A case in point, he said: this week’s revelation, from businessman Jeffrey Thompson, that Gray knew of an illegal, off-the-books fundraising effort by Thompson on his behalf. Another: the criminal convictions of former D.C. Council members Harry Thomas Jr. (D), Kwame R. Brown (D) and Michael A. Brown (I).
“Hell, in D.C., there’s got to be a shuttle bus between the penitentiary and that city council chambers,” Saslaw said. “Three since last election have gone to jail or resigned, and the mayor’s up to his ass in alligators.”
Thomas, who pleaded guilty to embezzlement, is serving a three-year prison sentence. Kwame Brown, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and misuse of campaign funds, spent less than a day behind bars as part of his sentence. Michael Brown, who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, is on supervised release.
Saslaw also took a slap at Prince George’s County that dates back to 2010, when then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) was arrested in a corruption conspiracy that netted him as much as $1 million in bribes and implicated his wife, County Council member-elect Leslie Johnson (D), and others. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
“A county executive had taken hundreds of thousands worth of bribes,” Saslaw said. “His wife — and that must have been some bra, because when the FBI broke in, entered the house, she had $77,000 in $100 bills in there, plus she just flushed a $100,000 check down the toilet. Their laws on reporting campaign contributions and everything are far stricter than ours.”
The tirade brought a dry rebuke from D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who pointed out that Virginia has ethics problems of its own, including the recent indictment on corruption charges of former governor Robert L. McDonnell (R). In January, Saslaw called the U.S. attorney’s office on McDonnell’s behalf to attest to his character.
“One need only look to the last sitting Republican governor, who appears to be up to his ass in alligators,” said Evans, who is running against Gray in the District’s April 1 mayoral primary. “Those who live in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones.”
Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said, “Last time I looked, that shuttle bus stopped all over the county, and who knows, it might be making a stop in Richmond in the near future.”
D.C. Council member and mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is campaigning with an anti-corruption message, made a similar quip. “Would there also be a bus stop at the governor’s house?” he asked.
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D) said that he tried to interrupt Saslow’s speech Tuesday night but that the senator spoke too quickly. “This isn’t a church, but I was trying to keep it clean,” Euille said. “That’s why I wanted to cut him off. Was it inappropriate? Perhaps yes.”
A spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D), who has spent much of his first term promoting anti-corruption efforts, did not have an immediate response to Saslaw’s remarks.
“All I did was state the truth,” Saslaw said Wednesday afternoon. “What’s there to feel sorry for? Either you’re honest or you’re not. . . . You got to elect people who can distinguish between right and wrong. People will look for shortcuts, but shortcuts get you in trouble.
“But if anybody was offended by what I said, I apologize. ”