By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; 10:14 PM
Surreptitious. Clandestine. Circuitous. Sweetheart deals. Cronyism.
Those are all words that D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) used to attack the incumbent mayor on the campaign trail last year.
And that's why he is a disaster right now, not even 100 days in office.
The very platform of his campaign - sound ethics, fairness, transparency and dignity - are now crumbling in the face of some ugly allegations.
In his first few acts as a reform mayor who's come to clean house, Gray increased his staff and jacked up their salaries. Then he hired their kids.
And as though he was totally certain that nobody was looking, he hired a former campaign opponent, one who is now saying that Gray's folks were slipping him fat envelopes of cash to keep his vitriolic attacks on then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) going.
Is it any surprise that people are already peddling "I MISS FENTY" bumper stickers?
Let's step back just a couple months before all this happened and remember why Gray was elected.
Last year's dramatic unseating of a sitting mayor didn't happen because our city was crime ridden, decaying and stagnating.
In fact, residents who were polled before last year's election reported they were happier with their neighborhoods and the quality of services than they'd been in the 20 years that we'd been asking about such things.
It certainly wasn't perfect, but, as a whole, the District was moving forward, weathering the recession much better than some of America's other big cities.
Gray won the election because Fenty was acting like a jerk. And Gray called him on it.
He was the NotFenty. Gray promised to bring a somber, ethical, respectful and consistent approach to governing One City.
Unlike Fenty, Gray would not make the city pay to heat the swimming pool he and his fellow triathletes trained in; he wouldn't bring in a bunch of young, tone-deaf, tech-savvy staffers who were better texters than talkers; and he would not go off on fancy foreign vacations (and refuse to answer questions about it).
He wouldn't throw a party for his fraternity or hand its members the kind of sweetheart deals that Fenty defended all the way to the end of his term.
"Adrian Fenty has a special jobs program . . . for his frat brothers," one campaign flier said, referring to about $80 million in city construction contracts that went to one of Fenty's pals.
But now that he's in office, Gray has a curious take on that. Nah, he's not doing favors for his frat brothers. He's doing them for his foes.
So it doesn't count as patronage, because he and Sulaimon Brown weren't really cronies but rather opponents on the campaign trail, right?
The $110,000 job that went to Brown, a loose cannon once accused of stalking a 13-year-old girl, was a bad move no matter how he got it.
And if Brown's allegations to The Post's Nikita Stewart are true - that Gray's campaign paid him off during the election and promised to reward him with a nice job - this is going to be much worse than merely giving a big position to a dud.
Did he have to go so Watergate-retro with this?
Any criticism that Gray had of Fenty's staffing and spending is pretty much flattened by the outrageous salaries Gray gave to his top officials - some of them higher than comparable folks are being paid at the White House. His own chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, is being paid a $200,000 salary that's over the payment cap the city has on that job.
And if that doesn't sit well with residents, how about giving jobs to their kids? Did he really think reporters wouldn't check that out?
Gray countered that by saying it's a way for the young people to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Nope, sorry. That's not forward thinking; that's just old-school bad.
D.C believed that Gray would know better.
And with his many years dedicated to working with some of the city's most vulnerable people, his quiet dignity as a native Washingtonian and African American pioneer on the George Washington University campus, his strong leadership of a raucous city council and his disdain for the way Fenty treated the office, he should know better.
But so far, he hasn't demonstrated that.
He slammed Fenty's apology tour of a campaign last fall, and now he is on one of his own, saying he's sorry for his "missteps."
Rather than focus exclusively on the big issues that he can make a difference in, such as the deep pockets of unemployment in our city, the epidemic-level HIV/AIDS infection rate, the contentious debate on school reform, his energy is going toward ethics investigations and hearings.
Yet tempting as it may be, this is not the time to buy that Fenty bumper sticker or get all nostalgic about the former mayor's cute little SmartCar. Remember, Fenty had a Lincoln Navigator, too, and it was fully loaded with its own scandals.
Maybe Gray is just front-loading his debacles, getting his screwups out of the way in his first 100 days and moving on.
Gray still has plenty of time to prove that he knows better. Otherwise, come election time, he'll find himself facing his own words: surreptitious, clandestine, circuitous, sweetheart deals and cronyism.