BARRINGTON SALMON, THE WASHINGTON INFORMER
Some political observers theorize that if Mayor Vincent Gray had studied the tea leaves, there would have been little reason to cover his odds by recruiting minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon M. Brown to harass and attempt to discredit then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Given that Fenty had alienated significant swathes of the District’s Black community and offended the city’s old guard, teachers and union members, Gray appeared to be a shoo-in.
But now, Gray, 69, is embroiled in a scandal said to have been designed to enhance his chances of winning the 2010 Democratic primary. So far, two dominoes have fallen and federal investigators promise more arrests.
Last week was a bad week for the mayor. On Tuesday, May 22, Thomas Gore, the mayor’s longtime friend and the campaign’s assistant treasurer admitted in federal court to giving campaign funds to Brown and obstructing justice. And Howard L. Brooks, a Gray consultant, pled guilty two days later to lying to the FBI about payments he made to Brown.
Gray maintains that he was unaware of any illegal campaign activity and has so far not been connected to any crime. However, the noose is tightening.
Gray’s ability to do his job has been severely hampered by the swirl of accusations and the consensus is that he will either be a one-term mayor or not survive his first term.
“I’m not at all surprised,” said Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Dionne Y. Brown of Gray’s burgeoning legal problems. “He’s [Gray] playing the same game the others have played. He claimed to be different – don’t claim to be different if you’re not. He needs to come clean because it’s clear they [the feds] have evidence.”
“[The mayor] owes the people an explanation. He revealed himself to be something he’s not. He’s in trouble not because of the original sin but because of the lies and hypocrisy.”
Gray should be relieved of his duties for showing extremely poor judgment and then compounded that by lying, she said.
“I was there and saw Sulaimon Brown attack Fenty and say he didn’t love his parents. I was aghast and people gasped when he said that. It never crossed my mind that he was paid. Voters need to cut him [Gray] loose because he demonstrated poor judgment and dishonesty – those character traits make him unsuitable to continue to serve.”
Almost from the time Gray (D) took office, his administration had been under attack by Brown, who went on the offensive after being fired from a $110,000-a-year job as a special assistant in the Department of Health Care Finance.
When questioned about the appearance of cronyism, Gray told the media: “We believe he has the requisite skills to do the job. Just like anybody else, if that proves not to be the case, he won’t be there.”
As he’s watched this pitiable saga play out, the Rev. Graylan Hagler said he has doubts as to the veracity of the allegations.
“There’s obviously a lot of accusations and speculation going around,” said the longtime civil and human rights activist, who is pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Northwest. “With what he’s being accused of, there are a whole lot of gaps. I need to wait and see more because there is stuff that defies logic. A payoff to Brown when Gray was so far out in front? Does that make sense? It’s like going to the store and buying something you don’t need.”
Hagler, 58, said he has known Gray in varying degrees for the past 20 years and has found him to be a man of integrity and someone with a real spiritual sense and “a depth of honesty.”
“If something happened, it was outside of the mayor’s purview,” he explained. “I just don’t see right now a whole lot of substance to what’s going on. Maybe someone can explain to me the depth and seriousness [of what he's accused of].”
Local businessman and 2010 mayoral candidate Leo Alexander said if Gray acted as federal prosecutors suggest, the offenses are very serious.
“These guys are just stooges,” he said of Gore and Brooks. “The real story is that Brooks said he was instructed to [pay Brown]. Only two people had the juice, the candidate [Gray] or Lorraine Green. She brought Brooks in and he would follow her lead. [The feds] threw 20 years at Gore and five years at Brooks to get to Gray.”
Green served as Gray’s campaign chair during his mayoral bid. She has strenuously denied any involvement.
“The question is, is Green going to be charged and will she flip on the mayor?” asked Alexander, 48. “What bothers me is that it was a measly $2,000. The White people in the suburbs are probably saying, ‘These negroes’, they can’t rule themselves. It’s sad because we have so many problems in the District and we’re caught up with this garbage. We desperately need to get past this.”
Lawrence Guyot, a veteran of the Civil Rights and student movements in the 1960s, said this is much ado about nothing.
“We are now in an extremely dangerous period in this city,” he said. “It’s no longer Blacks against Whites or Blacks against Hispanics; it’s pragmatists versus the purist, perfectionist core. This is detrimental to this city. The city has a choice: Either we will allow this government to be run or push for perfection at every level and only allow saints to run.”
“Ordinary mortals need not apply.”
Guyot, 72, said he did everything in his power to defeat Gray but is giving him the benefit of the doubt.
“We bear as much collective responsibility for the situation that has been created by our inactivity or done in our name,” he said.
But David Bositis, a senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest, has a different view. He said “the stories which have been dribbling out for a couple of years now since [Gray] was first elected” certainly appear to suggest that the mayor was buying support.
“Nope, there’s no way for him to come back from this,” said Bositis. “Gray was never seen as a strong mayor such as Marion Barry in his prime, or Adrian Fenty when he was elected. He wasn’t seen as a really powerful political figure. His getting elected is attributable to a lot of luck. A lot of people see it that way. It was as much an anti-Fenty vote as a pro-Gray vote. “
“If he tries to get another term he’ll lose. There’s blood in the water and the sharks will start swimming around and getting stronger. I don’t have a sense of when it will be but I know that given his weakened position, the strongest candidate will be able to walk in. All he can do is do the best he can.”
Recent media reports suggest Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as those who have either expressed an interest in running for the city’s top spot or who are surreptitiously testing the waters.
Several council members have come under increased scrutiny because of thievery, ethical lapses and poor judgment. Political kingmaker Jeff Thompson and those he contributed to are being investigated for possible campaign contribution violations; former Ward 5 Council member Harry L. Thomas, Jr., is set to begin serving a 38-month prison term for stealing at least $353,500; and other members, including Council Chairman Kwame Brown, are operating under a thick cloud of suspicion.
“I am disappointed at how quiet the council was during Harry Thomas’ investigation and trial,” Dionne Brown said. “I have a great deal of respect for Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells. We need people not to be quiet or look the other way.”
“I’m even more disappointed that our Black council members have chosen to be quiet. Dr. King didn’t die for their right to be as corrupt as the others.”
Deanwood resident Sylvia Brown agreed, saying the issue boils down to public trust.
“This feeds into the perception that politics is just for the few,” she said. “What’s done in the dark will come to light.”
Brown said she is a member of the DC Committee to Restore the Public Trust, a new group which seeks to lobby legislators to not “slow-walk” ethical reforms, to support transparent financial disclosure provisions and push through an ethical review that has teeth.
Alexander believes that Lorraine Green is the linchpin in this debacle.
“Gray did not have to get in bed with Brown,” Alexander said. “His judgment was bad. He said he had no connection to Sulaimon. He’s full of it. He ordered this and Green executed it. They’re going to jail! I think things will shake out in the next couple of weeks. It will be a long, hot summer.”