Gray Issues Weigh on Council

Dorothy Rowley | 3/24/2011, 12:13 a.m.
Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) (l) and Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) - Courtesy Photos  

The scandal that has marred D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's administration may have cast a divisive shadow over the City Council as well.

While one faction of the13-member governing body has appeared more focused on running the city - others like Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and David Catania (I-At-Large) have openly expressed concern. Catania has said that Gray misplaced trust in a lot of people and Evans noted that the mayor's missteps have impeded the District's ability to move forward on Capitol Hill with issues that include statehood.

"I don't know if I would call it a division [among the Council]," Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, 50, said.

"I just think people believe there's been a change in the dynamics of the Council in relation to those who have been staunch supporters of our chairman who is now the mayor, and those who really didn't support his candidacy, and see this as an opportunity to put some bumps on the road of his administration."

Thomas said however, that he hoped the Council would get beyond the distractions, because they have little to do with governance.

"It's about the political fires that have always been stoked and I think we'll move forward from there," Thomas said.

Since Gray, 68, assumed the helm of city government in January, his administration has faced a succession of distractions: A month after former employee Sulaimon Brown (who got a six-figure job with the city after Gray was sworn in, only to be quickly terminated) -- alleged he was paid by Gray's campaign to make then-Mayor Adrian Fenty look bad, the salaries of several high ranking appointees came under scrutiny and Gray was accused of nepotism and cronyism over the discovery that children of some of his administrators received city jobs.

Gray, who has denied the Brown allegations and called for an investigation, has hired go-to-attorney Robert Bennett.

The mayor has also remained tight-lipped about the issues that have cropped up and threatened the image of goodwill he brought to the post.

While investigations by the District and U.S. attorney general offices are underway, another probe requested of the Inspector General at the behest of Council Chairman Kwame Brown, has been dropped.

Neither of the investigating offices are commenting, but in a statement issued March 9, Inspector General Charles Willoughby said that because of a meeting he had in January with Sulaimon Brown regarding an auditor's job and to avoid any conflict of interest, he was recusing himself from that investigation. Willoughby concluded by saying he had determined his office would not investigate Sulaimon Brown's allegations and that the job Brown inquired about was filled last June.

Michael Fauntroy, a political expert based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said that he was concerned that the issues surrounding Gray could morph into back-biting and score settling.

"I hope that doesn't happen but I do get the sense that some people are not all that unhappy to see something like this happen to Mayor Gray," Fauntroy, 44, said.

"From what I see, [Gray] and Kwame Brown are on opposite sides of the fence right now -- and that's worrisome as well."

But Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham said while he and his peers are "really concerned about how things develop," for the moment, they don't know if the charges are valid.

"I think it's a very troubled time, obviously [for the Council]," Graham said. "It's not the same as it was. We know there have been some serious allegations made and we've got to track them down."

Graham further said that he hoped that Gray's troubles wouldn't call for Congressional intervention. He said that it would be politically motivated.

"And when you have a politically motivated investigation you're not likely to get to the truth," Graham, 65, said.

"We have the capacity here to deal with our own, and to bring Congress in would definitely be crossing the line."