“Tell Tony Williams to start warming up.” That would be my order from the dugout if I were managing this error-prone enterprise called “Team Washington.”
’Course, I’m not. And this is no game.
Ten months in, the tenure of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and the Kwame Brown-led D.C. Council has been a political debacle. The city’s executive and legislative branches are operating under a cloud. It doesn’t help that the city’s so-called independent chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, is embroiled in a lawsuit related to the D.C. lottery that alleges that he wrongfully terminated and retaliated against a whistleblower, Eric Payne, former contracts director in the CFO’s office. A Gandhi spokesman, David Umansky, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he told The Post’s Mike DeBonis, “The procurements were transparent, open and done strictly according to the law.” Gandhi may end up in the clear, but the lawsuit only adds to the picture of a city out of ethical control.
Today, most eyes are on the John A. Wilson Building, where Gray and council members ply their trade. My eyes, however, are on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and, specifically, on a certain grand jury.
What in the world are those jurors hearing from fellow citizens who have been answering summonses to testify about the deal reportedly struck last summer between former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown and the campaign of Mayor Gray?
’Tis the question of the hour.
And, of course, there is council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). His efforts to explain away the attempt of his aide, Ted Loza, to give him $2,600 in cash from a businessman known as Pete — revealed to be an undercover FBI agent — are, well, a hoot.
Please read the City Paper’s Loose Lips: “Jim Graham Didn’t Reject Bribe, He Rejected Goodwill.” Then you might think, as I do: Jimbo, give it a rest.
None of the above, however, comes close to the impact that formal federal charges against Gray’s campaign would have on the city.
Did Sulaimon Brown continue his campaign attacks on then-mayor Adrian Fenty in exchange for a city job if Gray won? Did Gray campaign aides give Brown a series of payments to help finance Brown’s campaign?
A report released in August by a D.C. Council special investigative committee confirms Brown’s allegations that top Gray campaign official paid him (though not what he was paid for). The committee also found evidence of a promise to provide Brown a job. The committee, however, did not directly link Gray to the payments, and the mayor has denied knowledge of either a job promise or payments to Brown.
What the council thinks, however, and what the grand jury discovers are two different matters. Besides, there’s little about today’s council that inspires confidence.
Hence, my grand jury vigil.
This we know: The Gray administration’s hiring practices were corrupted by nepotism and cronyism. We also know, based on the mayor’s recent appointment of former deputy chief of staff Andrea “Andi” Pringle, and his nomination of Robert Mallett as chairman of the Board of Elections and Ethics — both of whom never served long enough to warm their assigned chairs (she resigned; his nomination was withdrawn) — that there’s still some part of the word “vet” that Gray doesn’t get.
But debasing the election process is an altogether different issue. If, in fact, Sulaimon Brown was paid, and offered a government job to continue to take down Fenty, then, plain and simple, the Gray campaign cheated. And in the process, it corrupted what little democracy the District has.
I wrote on Williams’s last day in office in 2006, “Williams leaves in his wake a city with a good bond rating, sizable cash reserves, a more accessible health-care system for the underserved, several promising neighborhood projects . . . and a home town that is no longer the laughingstock of the nation. . . . On his watch, the District underwent its most profound transformation in generations.”
Williams, for the record, had electioneering troubles himself. In 2002, his reelection campaign was fined $278,000 and his name was taken off the Democratic ballot by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics after it found that a firm it had hired to collect ballot signatures for the Democratic primary had submitted petitions with numerous irregularities. Williams, however, ran as a write-in candidate and won both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
Hope, if you will, that Gray survives. But in the meantime, warm up Tony Williams.