Will DC Mayor Vincent Gray fall like ex-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Will DC Mayor Vincent Gray fall like ex-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon?

As mayor, Adrian Fenty was young, sometimes petty as when he wouldn’t share Washington Nationals tickets with council members and, occasionally, downright arrogant, shuttling millions in construction contracts to cronies without competitive bidding.

But he was also decisive and his administration shook up the city with a vision—promising– and actually repairing– school buildings and libraries, riling and firing complacent teachers in an effort to raise children’s test scores, replacing the Byzantine taxi zoning system with meters and housing tens of hundreds of homeless families.  Sure, he also built dog parks, but unlike some, I have no objection to dog parks being built in neighborhoods, like Dupont Circle, where the citizens wanted dog parks, or in seeing once blighted neighborhoods attract young, energetic newcomers, many of whom are white.

Former Mayor Fenty didn’t win over voter’s hearts with his brashness. (Wikipedia Commons)

Fenty won office fair and square, pounding the pavement and shaking hands in the city’s 142 precincts — taking every one of the precincts when he swept into the mayor’s office in 2006.

But once in office, Fenty’s brash assumption of mayoral power and a certain contempt for the old guard didn’t sit well with everyone.  Truth be told, he wasn’t nearly as responsive once he was in office as he had been as a council member, exhibiting an iron-fisted control of his image and failing to show up when tragedy struck in poorer areas of the city.

Two women I walk with each morning not only weren’t fans of Fenty, they were scathingly critical of his cronyism and high-handedness.

So when Vincent Gray, the city council chairman with nearly three decades of public service under his belt, became a mayoral candidate, they enthusiastically supported him.  Part of their support reflected nostalgia for the city’s old power structure, the African American demographic that once garnered Washington D.C., the sobriquet of “Chocolate City.”

Gray had certainly proven himself an able chairman of the city council — a policy wonk,  low-keyed, cautious and collaborative, a man who could “herd the cats” of the often fractious 12- member city council.

Yet from the moment he took office, scandal swirled around Gray, who continues to deny any knowledge of a “shadow campaign” or pay-to-play politics.

Shades of Watergate: Gray’s’ in the shadow of other criminal plots stemming from his campaign. (Wikipedia Commons)

But the rumors won’t go away and  some are betting that Gray won’t  make it to the end of 2012. Will he fall like the neighbors to the north – former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon (theft of gift cards intended for needy families) or former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson (pay-to-play scandal).  Whether he steps down, is pushed out or gets indicted is still up in the air, but Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney, has called the 2010 mayoral campaign “corrupted.”

Three members of the city council — Muriel Bowser, David Catania, Mary Cheh – have called  on Gray to resign, saying that the on-going scandal has compromised his legitimacy and his ability to do the work of the mayor’s office.

And the scandal all seems so unnecessary, rather like the Watergate break-in decades ago, during an election year when Richard Nixon was a shoe-in.

For like Nixon, when Gray entered the race, citizens, white and black, were deeply disaffected by Fenty’s sense of entitlement.

When Fenty lost the primary, this Democratic city elected Gray with his promise of maturity, character and a return of respectful leadership—an appeal that  persuaded the majority of voters.

But the machinations of a minor mayoral candidate, Sulaimon Brown, a man barely on anyone’s radar, began to sift the sand from under the Gray administration.

Brown claimed that Gray’s election campaign paid him to undermine the incumbent Fenty and that it promised him a six-figure job once Gray was elected mayor.  Denials followed denials, but Brown did, indeed, get a job, though he was fired shortly afterward for allegedly stalking a teenager.

Ex-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was found guilty on one misdemeanor embezzlement charge relating to her use of over $600 worth of retail store gift cards that were intended to be distributed to needy families. (Wikipedia Commons)

As the Brown fiasco unraveled, there were charges of nepotism leveled at Gray when it was discovered that the children of his top aides had all landed well-paying jobs in his administration in a city facing a budget crisis.

Scandal simmered and subsided, though Brown’s accusations had caught the attention of federal prosecutors who began an investigation  into possible criminal activity in connection with Gray’s campaign.

First one than another of Gray’s campaign associates, Howard Brooks and Thomas Gore, fell by the wayside, pleading guilty to obstructing justice and lying to the FBI about paying Brown to criticize Fenty.

More recently, another Gray associate, Jeanne Harris, pleaded guilty to running a “shadow campaign,” funneling $653,000 in unreported funds to Gray’s campaign.  In addition, it’s come to light that Gray’s election campaign routinely paid illegal payments to campaign workers.

Gray maintains that he did the best he could in the short period up running up to the election and that everything was done properly, as far as he knew. And on Wednesday afternoon, about a dozen believers rallied outside the District Building in downtown Washington, many arguing that there has been a rush to judgment and that a candidate can’t possibly know everything that is being done in his or her name.

Still, many Washingtonians, however sympathetic, would probably agree with Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who supported Gray as mayor.  In a statement just last week, she stated: “Whether or not he knew of the massive election fraud that was taking place in his name, he is responsible for it.”

About the author

Karen DeWitt

Karen DeWitt has a long distinguished career as a journalist, covering politics, but also has worked on political campaigns. She compares the later to the labor of a Hebrew working for the Pharaoh. She's covered the White House and the national politics for The New York Times; foreign affairs and the White House for USA TODAY before joining that newspaper’s management as an assistant managing editor. She switched to television as a senior producer for ABC’s Nightline, where she wrote and produced the award-winning, Found Voices about the digitization of 1930s and 1940s interviews with former slaves. She returned to newspapers, as Washington editor for the Examiner newspaper and eventually left to help on local political campaigns. She has several blogs, but contributes mostly to a food blog called “I don’t speak cuisine” at peacecorpsworldwide.org and theroot.com. Contact the author.

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