D.C. scandals show that Mayor Gray should part ways with some advisers

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 8:18 PM

Back during last year's mayoral campaign, when challenger Vince Gray was slamming incumbent Adrian Fenty for sleazy ethics, I asked everybody I could whether Gray was honest and could be trusted to do better than the man he wanted to replace.

The consistent answer: Gray, as an individual, is as straight as they come, but we worry about some of the people around him. He is sometimes a poor judge of character and can be too loyal and indulgent toward people who could serve him and the city poorly.

In the wake of the blockbuster scandal involving alleged payments by Gray's campaign to a third mayoral candidate, Sulaimon Brown, it's too soon to say whether the mayor himself is ethically compromised. But there's no question that some top advisers are directly implicated in the spate of controversies threatening his young administration, and the mayor ought to part ways with them as soon as possible.

Gray should start by putting some distance between himself and Lorraine Green, chairman of his campaign and transition. She's at the center of Brown's explosive allegations that the Gray campaign offered him a job and handed him cash in envelopes in exchange for hammering Fenty at debates.

Then Gray could follow up by replacing one of Green's proteges, Gerri Mason Hall, who is his chief of staff. She's shown lousy political judgment. She allowed her boss to be embarrassed by the revelation that her child along with offspring of three other city officials or advisers had gotten jobs in the administration. (Three of the four have left or are leaving.)

Unfortunately, Gray is showing no signs of following this advice. According to sources familiar with his thinking, the mayor doesn't think Green would do anything illicit. Although he's told Hall directly that she showed bad judgment in allowing the apparently nepotistic hiring to take place, Gray still has confidence she can do a good job as chief of staff, according to the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because formal investigations are beginning into the Brown controversy.

The mayor also thinks that he's adequately addressed the problem of poorly vetting middle-ranking officials before they are hired. He's ordered all political appointees to be subject to the same background checks as cabinet-level positions. He's counting on his deputy mayors, City Administrator Allen Lew and the Human Resources Department to make sure no more unsuitable people are hired.

Gray also plans to be more directly involved in the process himself.

"For the immediate future, nobody in government gets hired into the excepted service without [the mayor] knowing it," one of the sources said.

For the city's sake, let's hope Gray is correct that these responses will be sufficient. I'm skeptical, because he's still maintaining close ties with advisers whose judgment, at the least, is questionable.

Looking at Green, for example, why on earth did she, as campaign chairman, have dealings with somebody like Sulaimon Brown? The guy was erratic, to put it mildly, when he ranted against Fenty at debates. The campaign didn't need his help. Gray was ahead of Fenty in the polls in January, months before anybody ever heard of Brown. Gray won by a landslide.

Green could well be correct that Brown is lying when he says she gave him money and promised him a job in exchange for bashing Fenty. His word is suspect, partly because he's a disgruntled ex-employee.

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