PLENTY IN WASHINGTON continues to go right, which may help explain why the city grew by 16,000 residents since spring 2010 — a faster rate of increase than that of almost any state.
In his first year in office, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) kept school reform on track under the leadership of his highly qualified chancellor, Kaya Henderson. He appointed a number of other talented people to his team, including, recently, Brenda Donald to take over the Child and Family Services Agency. Mr. Gray has scored some economic development successes, including a tentative deal to bring Wal-Mart to underserved neighborhoods. City services, overhauled by predecessors Anthony Williams and Adrian M. Fenty, continue to improve, according to a recent analysis reported by The Post’s Mike DeBonis.
Yet a recent poll puts Mr. Gray’s approval rating at a meager 34 percent and that of the D.C. Council at 30 percent. And no wonder: On balance, their first year has produced neither the achievements nor the momentum that might have been desired. On the contrary, ethical lapses have led to fears that the remarkably better governance the city enjoyed over the past 12 years may be in jeopardy.
Consider that, one year into Mr. Williams’s administration, the finances of the once nearly bankrupt city were on the mend, and services were rapidly improving. Mr. Fenty’s first year was marked by his administration’s historic takeover of the public schools and bold initiatives in building and development. Having a D.C. Council led by steady, capable chairmen, first Linda Cropp and then Mr. Gray, contributed to the city’s progress.
The current mayor, by contrast, has yet to demonstrate the executive skills to match the patient consensus-building he employed as council chairman. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) has been even less successful in demonstrating leadership. Accomplishments are overshadowed by controversies over luxury cars, government hiring, campaign practices and alleged misappropriation of government funds. The council’s single major achievement, comprehensive ethics reform, was enacted in response to public outrage over the behavior of the city’s elected leaders.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating possible corruption by council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), reportedly looking beyond his alleged misappropriation of $300,000 in city funds; allegations by a fringe mayoral candidate that Mr. Gray and his aides induced him to wage political attacks in exchange for cash and a government job; and the findings by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics of possible criminal activity in Mr. Brown’s 2008 campaign for reelection to an at-large seat.
The council reacted defensively to revelations of contracts going to politically favored contractors over qualified competitors who would provide less expensive services. It has yet to explain a number of mysteries involving the city’s lottery business. Mr. Gray, Mr. Brown and Mr. Thomas each deny wrongdoing, although Mr. Thomas did agree to repay the city $300,000 for the public funds that he allegedly diverted for his personal and political use.
Federal prosecutors won’t comment on the probes. A recent raid by federal agents on Mr. Thomas’s house signaled stepped-up activity that we hope means some resolution of his case is at hand. Not only is Mr. Thomas’s ability to represent his constituents compromised but his collection of salary from a government he is alleged to have defrauded is an affront.
It’s perhaps even more urgent that the questions surrounding Mr. Gray and Mr. Brown be answered. Both gamely proclaim they are conducting business as usual. But uncertainty about their future impedes their ability to govern, and that’s not a good way to start off the new year.