Mr. Mayor, It’s Time to Talk to Us

Talk to almost anybody about recent revelations, charges and events surrounding Mayor Vincent Gray’s election campaign, especially folks who supported him, and the result is not so much shock as a deep sense of frustration and disappointment.

Two operatives in the campaign—long time ally and friend Thomas W. Gore, who was the assistant treasurer for the Gray’s victorious 2010 campaign, and mystery man and campaign operative Howard Brooks, in guilty pleas to federal prosecutors, admitted that money had been given to fringe candidate Sulaimon Brown to keep his anti-Adrian Fenty campaign alive.

Gore had major roles in Gray’s successful campaigns for a Ward 7 Council seat and for the city council chairmanship. Brooks had been specifically hired for the 2010 campaign. Gore admitted that he and unnamed (so far) others had come up with a plan to pay Brown hundreds of dollars to keep him in the race, where his appearances were noted for their vitriolic attacks on Fenty. Brown had also said that he had been promised a job in the Gray administration. After the election, he did get a job but was fired shortly thereafter.

Other accusations have emerged since, including the possibility of a shadow of a “shadow campaign,” involving developer and Gray supporter Jeffrey Thompson. Gore admitted to shredding the contents of a notebook detailing the payments to Brown, and Brooks admitted lying to the FBI.

The two convictions were the proverbial shoes to drop in the long-standing investigatory cloud hanging over the Gray Administration, a cloud that seemed to wound his mayoralty seriously, almost from the get-go. Most observers believe that this is not the end but perhaps only the beginning of more charges which could lead to the mayor himself.

From the beginning of March (when Brown’s story first emerged), and all the subsequent hearings, investigations and revelations, the mayor has remained steadfastly silent, refusing to talk to the press or the public, other than to maintain his innocence of any wrong-doing and his disbelief that anyone in his campaign would do such things.

Yet at least two of his campaign workers did do such things and more. There is something stark and unequivocal about the admissions of Gore and Brooks—there is no getting around them. They are not rumors, speculations, wild charges, political rants or media exaggerations. They are what they are: facts. Gore did order payments, and Brooks did give money to Brown, in the form of cash and money orders. Gore did shred records. Brooks did lie to the FBI.

There is a real cover-up here. There is a real plan which can easily be construed as a conspiracy. And the political process -- the 2010 mayoral election campaign -- was tainted by the mayor’s campaign staff if not the mayor himself. That is a legally and morally serious matter.

Gray has even stopped giving his usual denials. He has simply refused to talk about the whole mess on the advice of his attorney, he says.

But he should, and, really, he must. His silence is becoming deafening.

Because silence festers, it keeps the public from imaging the best outcomes. It, inevitably, as one Washington Post columnist bluntly stated, leads you to the conclusion that the mayor was either a fool or a liar.

If the mayor was a part of this—if he sat in on and gave approval to a plan to pay Brown—then, he lied since about the time of the first payment to Brown. He protested too much when he expressed disapproval of Brown’s more loose-cannon invectives against Fenty on the campaign trail The entire reign of Gray as mayor, during which, oddly enough, the city appears to have actually prospered and remain on a steady course, has been conducted in an atmosphere that is surreal. The mayor remained under an ever-darkening cloud, and the public’s trust in him as well as the District Council—which was also plagued by major ethical issues on the part of some of its members—was as low as it can possibly get.

But the strangest thing of all to some was Gray’s silence. Most politicians, faced with an ongoing political scandal, try to get out in front of it, not simply by making brusque denials, but by grabbing the story by the neck and killing it. Instead, Gray has simply ignored it.

This seems to be a politically and ethically suicidal approach. It does a grave disservice to the city, and to the voters who elected Gray, to all voters, many of whom had been impressed by his conduct as council chairman, by his approachability, by his candor, his then unsullied claims of honesty as a politician. He has now an obligation to explain himself, to tell the story, whether his lawyer says otherwise or not.

It doesn’t really matter that there (as far as we know) were small amounts of money involved, or that the whole plan did not affect the outcome. What matters is that the fringe candidate who was dismissed by many appears to have been telling the truth, at least in terms of the information that was verified recently. What matters is that the process itself was sullied.

Speculation has already started about potential mayoral candidates for 2014. That’s political noodling. With each passing day, and no word from the mayor, district residents might not want to wait that long.

So far, the mayor hasn’t told us anything.

He has to start now.

He owes it to everyone.

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Fri, 25 Jul 2014 02:43:59 -0400

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