Colbert I. King
Colbert I. King
Opinion Writer

D.C.’s cloudy election

Welcome to Washington, the District of Uncertainty.

For the second consecutive election, D.C. voters head to the polls with clouds hovering over their elected leaders.

Colbert I. King

King writes a column -- sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics -- that runs on Saturdays.

Archive

Gallery

This is no way to treat an electorate. Unfortunately, it has happened before.

The 2010 mayoral Democratic primary was under a cloud from Day One. That March, prompted by Harry Thomas Jr. (D), then the Ward 5 representative, the D.C. Council appointed high-profile lawyer Robert P. Trout to investigate the awarding of multimillion­dollar contracts to firms with ties to Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration.

Thomas suggested Trout’s investigation could be done in 45 days. From the start of the council’s own joint special investigation to the release of Trout’s report, the inquiry dragged on for 18 months.

While Trout investigated, Fenty was getting hammered by his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Vince Gray, then chairman of the council. “Pay to play,” “rigged contracts” and “shady deals” were among the phrases Gray used to slam the Fenty administration, The Post noted [“Never mind; Remember Adrian Fenty’s corrupt contracts? Well, they weren’t,” editorial, March 15, 2011].

In March 2011, six months after Fenty lost the primary, and three months after Gray moved into the mayor’s suite, Trout’s 258-page report was released.

Verdict: “Our investigation uncovered no wrongdoing on the part of the mayor.”

The damage sought by Fenty’s political enemies had been done.

Ironically, Thomas is now serving time in a federal penitentiary for stealing from the city. And federal authorities are investigating Gray and his mayoral campaign in connection with serious campaign finance violations.

The current election cycle, sadly, presents the same problem. Unless answers are forthcoming in the next few days, D.C. voters will enter their polling places not knowing the outcome of a federal probe in which subpoenas have been issued to some of the elected officials on their ballots.

Clouds abound.

In June, D.C. Council member Michael Brown (I-At Large) announced that a “substantial” sum had gone missing from his reelection account, and he suggested that his former campaign treasurer, Hakim Sutton, was the culprit. Sutton’s lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon, strongly rebutted the suggestion and counter-charged, as The Post’s Tim Craig reported, that Brown “knows the truth” and “has a morally depraved composition.” What, pray tell, is that?

Why isn’t this case resolved by now? And Brown’s is not the only one. The Washington City Paper’s Loose Lips column has said the feds are asking about the 2011 campaign of Vincent Orange (D-At Large). What’s up with that?

Voters should have the facts before, not after, Election Day. Unfortunately, uncertainty infects more than D.C. politics.

The office of D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, which oversees the city’s budget, finances, taxation and lottery, is the subject of scrutiny.

Federal authorities are looking into possible corruption in the award of the city’s $228 million lottery contract, and a grand jury reportedly has been empaneled.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, we learned this week, has opened an “informal inquiry” into the CFO’s office. “Informal”? The reported actions — seeking nearly three years of all internal audits, inspections, reviews and investigations — hardly seem like a casual peek into Gandhi’s operation.

The city’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is also under a cloud.

An investigation sponsored by Metro recently found that, when D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) served as the council’s representative to the Metro board, he violated Metro’s standards of conduct when he allegedly offered to support a developer’s bid for a city lottery contract in exchange for the developer’s withdrawal from a Metro real estate project.

Violating standards of conduct sounds like acting improperly.

Earlier, the D.C. inspector general had looked into the allegation and concluded that, while Graham’s actions “may give the appearance that he lost complete independence or impartiality, and may have affected adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of the government, the OIG did not find sufficient evidence to support or conclude that the council member had acted improperly.”

Seriously?

And Graham proclaims himself innocent as a newborn.

The Metro investigation included an interview with Graham.

Did Graham dodge an interview with the city’s inspector general? A former council member told me that Graham declined an interview with the OIG.

Despite my repeated requests, Graham refuses to say whether he was interviewed by the OIG.

Inspector General Charles Willoughby would only say, by e-mail, that “The OIG report speaks for itself.” The report does not state whether Graham was interviewed.

When I asked the D.C. Council’s general counsel, V. David Zvenyach, who represented Graham in the Metro probe, whether the inspector general’s office interviewed Graham, he replied: “I am not commenting on the matter.”

Did Graham brush off the inspector general? Let’s hope not. If so, what good is the IG?

Perish the thought, but a cynic might ask, What good are our elections?

So much hidden, so much unknown, so District of Uncertainty.

kingc@washpost.com

 
Read what others are saying