The affair in Alexandria that began last December with a bang seems to be ending this spring with a whimper.
The allegations of an aborted police investigation into drug dealing at an Alexandria restaurant have withered under the glare of intense scrutiny.
Despite the acrimony among members of the City Council that the allegations produced, the investigations and their aftermath have not become the overriding concern of Alexandria voters who will select a mayor and a City Council in less than two weeks.
And when the lawyers submit their bills for the litigation spawned by the controversy, it will be a new City Council asked to pay them.
Last month a special Alexandria grand jury report concluded that there was no basis to allegations, reported first in the Port Packet, that Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel had improperly handled a police investigation into reports of suspected drug involvement on the part of Alexandria Sheriff Michael E. Norris. Other allegations, including that Strobel covered up an internal police investigation, also were examined and found to be without base.
Despite the grand jury's praise for Strobel and Norris and its scathing attack on the safety chief's accusers as well as on the politicians who had vigorously pursued action against him -- Mayor Charles E. Beatley and council member Donald C. Casey -- the affair may not be over.
The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria has been looking into the city police department, and lawsuits involving Strobel and his accusers remain in the courts.
The federal investigation, however, seems to be going nowhere. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Williams brought four people before a federal grand jury in March, but there is no indication others are being questioned.
One lawsuit elicited a harsh criticism of Strobel's accusers by a federal judge and, from what is known about the pretrial investigations so far, a flimsy rumor at best was the basis for the allegations against Strobel.
U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams said in a hearing two weeks ago that city policemen Joseph Morrash and Morton Ford, former police detective Charles Cox and attorney Mary Craig "were involved in a sort of a political crusade" when they accused Strobel.
The three men, with Craig as their counsel, filed suit against Strobel in January charging him with "abuse of office" for his personal and political ends. The City of Alexandria also was named as a defendant. Strobel responded with a countersuit against them and three others, including a reporter for the Port Packet.
Williams threw Strobel's countersuit out of federal court, saying it had no jurisdiction in the case.
David Fiske, Strobel's lawyer, says the accusers have little to support their charges. The transcript of one taped conversation involving Morrash, Cox, Ford and Craig in October in which the allegations were discussed shows that the quartet had few hard facts. The rambling conversation is filled with rumors and reveals little but a dislike of suspected homosexuals.
Details about the 1984 police drug investigation remain unexplained because most of the special grand jury's report was not fully disclosed. Lawyers for Morrash, Cox, Ford and Craig decline to say what they are discovering in their pretrial investigations, including one day of interviewing Strobel.
Robert Boraks, lawyer for the three individuals suing Strobel, cautions against assuming that their $750,000 suit is weak. "I think if my opponent is lighting up a victory cigar, he better have an ashtry to put it out," he said.
Meanwhile, as the May 7 election draws near, the affair and how it was handled is a matter on the voters' minds. At least one question about it pops up in most candidates forums. And if the issue does not come spontaneously, supporters of former vice mayor James P. Moran, who is running against Beatley, are there to raise it.
But the general consensus holds that it is not an issue that will decide the election. "It's an issue, but one of many," said Old Town Civic Association chairwoman Andrea Dimond. Development, taxes, traffic and airplane noise are just as important, she said.
Meanwhile lawyers' fees are piling up. The city's insurance carrier has agreed to pay for lawyers to defend Strobel and the city against the suit brought by Morrash, Ford and Cox. They also hired lawyers to defend Morrash, Cox and Ford when they were sued by Strobel. But before the insurance company starts paying, the city has to pick up a $10,000 deductible.
Then, there will be the matter of paying Fiske, hired by Strobel to file his counterclaim. Under Virginia law Strobel can ask the City Council to pay the bill. And by then, the election will be over.