Mayor Gray’s very bad start

March 11, 2011

Undoubtedly, Lorraine Green, Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign chairwoman; Howard Brooks, a Gray campaign consultant; and former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown have a lot on their minds these days.

They should squeeze in a reading of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, which makes it a crime to lie to agents of the FBI.

Before too long, if media reports are correct, federal agents may come calling on Green and Brooks because of Brown’s allegations that the two Gray campaign aides paid him to continue his attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in exchange for a city job. One news report said Brown and the FBI have already engaged in an “exchange of views.”

Here’s what Green and Brooks should know before they have their sit-down with government agents (and which Brown should have known before his tête-à-tête with the feds):

It is a crime to make any materially false, fictitious statement or representation to a federal agent. It’s also a crime to falsify, conceal or cover up by any trick, scheme or device a material fact with the feds. And get this: It’s also a crime to do those things even if you aren’t under oath. What’s more, ’tis against the law to lie even if you weren’t told of your right to remain silent.

I bring this up because Green and Brooks have publicly denied Brown’s allegations even as the accuser continued to repeat his charges to any media outlet that cares to listen.

It’s one thing to spin the media. If we get taken, it’s our fault. It’s an altogether different matter, however, to intentionally mislead federal agents. They have no sense of humor.

Which gets us to another matter that’s also not the least bit funny.

Those 28,000 citywide voters who wrote in another candidate’s name in last November’s mayoral election may be feeling pretty vindicated ’round about now. The newly minted Gray administration has stumbled badly coming out of the chute. Gray called them “missteps.” “Pratfalls” is a better word.

There’s been one blunder after the next: Senior aides seeding the government with their children; excessive salaries handed out to the untried. Then there’s the hiring of Sulaimon Brown — an act as unthinkable as publicity-hungry Michaele and Tareq Salahi ending up at a White House state dinner.

Brown is a loose cannon who demagogued his way through the mayoral campaign. (Having moderated a mayoral debate that included Fenty, Gray and Brown, and having attended debates where Brown was present, I know whence I speak.)

But unlike the White House gate-crashers, Brown was invited into the Gray administration. That’s where he stayed until the Washington City Paper published stuff about him that Gray should have known. The Gray team showed Brown the door. He hasn’t stopped talking about his benefactors since.

And what of Gray? Nearly three months into his first year, the mayor has yet to gain his balance. Instead of charting a course for the city through the tough times ahead, Gray finds himself mired in confusion of his administration’s own making.

Can he regain his footing? It depends upon several ifs:

l If the investigations underway — the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance probe and possibly the “assessment” by the U.S. attorney for the District — exonerate Gray of any wrongdoing, he should land on his feet. Even if campaign aides are found to have crossed a legal or ethical line, Gray can survive, provided he emerges from the mess unscathed. In an interview with me this week, Gray repeated his statement that he would never condone the campaign abuses alleged by Brown, and he said all of the children of staffers, except Lorraine Green’s daughter, were hired without his approval. All, he said, are now off the payroll.

l If a serious and credible effort is made to vet all of Gray’s political appointees with the same vigor applied to the selection of his Cabinet. If no clunkers turn up in the investigation — and if he immediately rescinds the overspending on salaries — he will have made a start toward restoring public trust.

The next three years can’t be anything like the first three months. Gray told me he continues to maintain a laser-like focus on the city’s fiscal health, education reform, job creation and public safety. Good. Newly appointed D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson needs a strong mayor who’s got her back, especially with signs of the Washington Teachers’ Union returning to its obstructionist mode.

Large swaths of the city fear that Gray represents a return to the days when Marion Barry reigned supreme. Gray, through performance, must dispel that view.

Gray knows he is being tested as never before. Now we’ll see what he’s got.

kingc@washpost.com

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