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Sulaimon Brown's charges must be taken seriously

Monday, March 7, 2011; 8:07 PM

MAYOR VINCENT C. GRAY (D) called an unusual news conference Sunday afternoon to deny allegations by a former D.C. mayoral candidate that Mr. Gray gave the candidate a city job in exchange for campaign attacks on then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). He disclaimed any knowledge of his campaign providing cash to Sulaimon Brown. What Mr. Gray didn't explain - and why these disquieting charges must be taken seriously - is why his administration gave a $110,000-a-year job to a man with a spotty background, questionable credentials and a pattern of peculiar behavior that included sending agitating messages to, among others, the mayor-to-be.

There are other unanswered questions. Mr. Gray's attempt to clear the air - acknowledging unspecified "missteps" by his young administration - brought little clarity. Allegations from Mr. Brown, given his penchant for making unsubstantiated charges, should be viewed with some skepticism. But his account of his dealings with the Gray campaign, as reported by The Post's Nikita Stewart, is unusually detailed, and substantial parts of it appear to be supported by cellphone records. These show dozens of calls during the campaign between Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray, Mr. Brown and campaign chairwoman Lorraine Green, and Mr. Brown and campaign consultant Howard Brooks. No independent verification has been produced for the alleged cash payments.

What are we to make of the fact that Mr. Brooks initially told The Post he didn't remember calling Mr. Brown, and then, when confronted with cellphone records, declined to comment further without an attorney present? Ms. Green, one of Mr. Gray's closest advisers and often described as his best friend, said she really didn't know Mr. Brown; records show 80 calls from mid-June through January between the two.

Mr. Gray appears to have had a 14-minute conversation with Mr. Brown on July 15 but says he can't remember what they talked about. Even more troubling is this text message sent after the election from Mr. Gray's cell to an agitated Mr. Brown, maintaining "we did not renege on any commitments to you. You know and we know what agreements had been reached. And none has been breached." Mr. Gray said he was referring only to a job interview that had been promised to Mr. Brown and not to an actual position. Nonetheless, Mr. Brown landed a plum job in the Department of Health Care Finance without, it seems, having been interviewed by the director; Mr. Brown has since been fired.

Campaign officials for Mr. Gray would have us believe that they viewed Mr. Brown as a nuisance during the campaign - someone whose activities were detrimental to their goals. That's not the way reporters who covered the campaign remember it, and Mr. Gray never expressed disapproval of Mr. Brown's blistering attacks, which placed Mr. Fenty on the defensive in the heat of the primary battle. As recently as Feb. 23, Mr. Gray defended Mr. Brown as someone with the "requisite skills" to do the job. Mr. Brown was fired, apparently without any involvement from Mr. Gray, the next day, which prompted his going public with charges of a quid pro quo and cash payoffs.

Mr. Gray has called for an investigation. But a probe conducted by a city agency will not suffice. Interim Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan is an appointee of Mr. Gray; the inspector general has neither the resources nor the zeal to undertake this effort; and the campaign finance office has little credibility.

Given the limbo into which investigations such as the probe of nonprofit fundraising by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) have fallen, the need for outside intervention is clear. U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. took office promising to root out public corruption, so surely he has an interest in determining whether a problem exists in the nation's capital.

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