There was an awkward scene Friday at what is a normally somber and serious salute to fallen police officers from our area.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier, as usual, invited Mayor Vincent Gray and U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, both important leaders of the city.
The two men may have shared the stage but barely acknowledged each other only once, spending most of the time studiously avoiding even looking in each other’s direction as they sat about 3 feet apart for almost two hours.
The undercurrent of cool distance didn’t distract from the police ceremony. And maybe it was understandable. Machen is in the third year of investigating a $650,000 shadow campaign that helped elect Gray in 2010. Several campaign aides have pleaded guilty in the case. No one could remember Machen and Gray appearing together since the investigation began.
On Friday, Chief Lanier greeted Machen warmly and with a big hug. She did the same for Mayor Gray.
But when Gray walked up to sit next to the chief and Machen, the prosecutor did not even look up from his seat.
And that’s the way it continued throughout the respectful ceremony. Neither man acknowledging the other in words or deeds. Both men are exceptionally friendly in public, which made their distance all the more noticeable.
Only briefly, after Gray had spoken, did the men barely touch hands in a handshake that lasted at best half a second.
After the ceremony, News4’s Mark Segraves asked Machen about the public coolness.
“You were next to Gray there. Was that awkward at all given that you’re investigating him?” Segraves asked. “Not awkward at all,” Machen replied quickly but politely. Would Machen care to update Segraves on the Gray investigation? “No, no,” Machen smiled.
What about Mayor Gray’s response? He shrugged off the question and said there was no interview and walked away.
Chief Lanier didn’t want to get into the coolness. She said she thought “it was important for both of them to be there, and they did, too.”
As he has pursued the corruption cases, Machen has minced no words on public integrity he’s defending.
He spoke Friday of the sacrifice of public safety officers and the theme of community service and honor the officers represent.
“Let us remember the values to which they devoted their lives,” Machen said, “service, integrity and sacrifice… Let us strive to live up to those memories.”