June 8, 2012

This time it’s worse. Yes, Marion Barry, his crack pipe and the Vista Hotel video put us on the map. But Barry could be disavowed as a D.C. political anomaly. We could say in our defense that Barry’s fall from grace was his handiwork, an undoing all his own.

Not this time around.

What we have witnessed since the beginning of the year is more repugnant, partly because the conclusion is less deniable: Today, we are a city under the sway of narcissistic, third-rate petty crooks, liars and hypocrites; the most disreputable city leadership since the start of home rule in 1975.

When in D.C. history have we had two city legislators charged with federal crimes within six months of each other? When was the last time two members of a mayor’s campaign staff pleaded guilty to federal charges; a council member’s chief of staff was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison; and a sitting member of the D.C. Council became the target in a FBI sting operation?

How many other D.C. Councils can lay claim to having in their ranks a legislator with a record of unpaid taxes and a federal criminal violation?

Today’s D.C. residents are on the receiving end of all that. Let us look at the ways:

●Ward 5 Democrat Harry Thomas Jr. resigns his council seat in January and is sentenced to 38 months in prison in May, having pleaded guilty to ripping off taxpayers to the tune of $350,000.

●Council chairman Kwame Brown (D) resigned this week after being charged with bank fraud.

Thomas W. Gore and Howard L. Brooks, workers on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign, pleaded guilty last month to criminal violations: Gore for obstruction of justice and false statements to the FBI; Brooks, also for making false statements to the FBI.

Ted Loza, the former chief of staff to council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) pleaded guilty in February 2011 to two counts of accepting illegal gratuities and making false statements; he was sentenced to eight months in prison. Loza was caught in a federal probe involving the D.C. taxi industry.

●Loza gave Graham an envelope in January 2009 containing $2,600 that Loza said business interests wanted Graham to have. It was part of an FBI sting operation. Graham refused the money but kept mum about the incident.

Michael A. Brown (I), an at-large council member and the council’s chief advocate of raising taxes on the city’s wealthiest residents, received a $50,000 IRS lien for unpaid income taxes, interest and penalties from 2004 to 2008. He’s now on a repayment plan. Last year, The Post reported that Brown owed the city more than $14,000 in property taxes. One day later he paid that debt in full.

This is the same Michael Brown who pleaded guilty in 1997 to a federal charge of making illegal campaign contributions to a candidate in 1994. In addition to making contributions to the candidate in his own name, Brown made donations in the names of three other people by requesting contributions from them and reimbursing them. The funds for the illegal donations had been provided to Brown by two people who had previously pleaded guilty to arranging unlawful contributions.

Consider the hypocrisy. Recall the public hearing, chaired by Thomas, in which he and Kwame Brown huffed and puffed about then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty steering contracts to his friends (a special counsel absolved Fenty of the charge) all while they were betraying the public trust.

There they were on the afternoon of March 5, 2010, as reported by the Washington City Paper, council chairman Vincent Gray, at-large council members Kwame Brown and Michael Brown and Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas introducing the private attorney they picked to probe parks projects awarded under Fenty. What unmitigated gall.

On top of that, we learned this week that the U.S. attorney’s office has subpoenaed records in connection with the award of a D.C. Lottery contract and the firing of Eric W. Payne, former director of contracts with the office of the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi.

Payne, who has sued the city, contends that Gray, Graham and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) exerted political pressure to unlawfully influence the award of the lottery contract, and that he was wrongly terminated by Gandhi after reporting the incidents. Gray, Graham and Evans have denied the claims.

Gandhi’s term expires July 1. Under the circumstances, it would be irresponsible for Gray to reappoint Gandhi to another term as CFO without resolution of the federal probe, including Gandhi’s role in the matter. Let him stay on the job, but hold off on a new lease until the feds give the all clear.

Beyond that, there’s this: Those wrongdoers and abusers of the public trust are our doing. We put them there. Ultimately, this is our mess to clean up.

kingc@washpost.com