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Tom Sherwood's Notebook: March Madness

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Sherwood: March Madness

Jeff Thompson

We’re not talking about the dismal misfortunes of our regional teams in this year’s college basketball tournament.

We’re talking about a flurry of subpoenas from U.S. Attorney Robert Machen that went out last week. Nearly every council member got one, and more may be arriving any day to any campaign -- win or lose -- undertaken in the city since 2003.

The subpoenas, first reported by News4, may be an important, game-changing moment in the wide-ranging federal criminal investigation into campaign corruption.

The subpoenas are looking for more than just detailed campaign finance records. They ask for any documents relating “meetings, planning documents, attendance records, invitations and RSVPs” associated with businessman Jeffrey Thompson and a list of his associates.

“This is big. This is going after campaigns back to 2003,” said one council staff member, who described a tense and nervous political atmosphere in the John A. Wilson Building downtown.

The number and scope of subpoenas suggested to some that prosecutors are advancing their investigation, looking for evidence to confirm what some witnesses plan to tell the grand jury.

But it also suggests that a great deal of paperwork still must be done, an indication that any formal charges or other decisions could be weeks or many months away.

On Monday, Mayor Vincent Gray showed a little of his own frustration with the year-old probe and the stunning subpoenas.

News4 also had reported from unnamed sources that Gray personally accepted as much as $100,000 in contributions from Thompson. When reporters indicated on Monday that they were about to ask more questions on the subject, Gray essentially called a timeout.

He shooed the cameras away and said he would no longer comment in any way on the investigation.

Robert Bennett is Gray’s lawyer, and like most defense attorneys, he doesn’t want his client commenting on every development in the investigation. Gray says he’ll stick to his simple statement that he called for the investigation and wants it done as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

It’s hard to believe that Sulaimon Brown’s complaints a year ago have led to this extensive probe into fund-raising, money orders, unreported cash and other aspects of campaign finances. Brown became almost a sideshow to the main event last fall, and now, with the subpoenas, we’re about to head into the criminal probe’s version of the Final Four. But we’re not there just yet. March Madness continues.

• Our economy.

The Washington region withstood the 2008 recession pretty well, thanks in large part to massive federal government spending. But that could change.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade hosted George Mason University Professor Stephen Fuller last week. He’s an expert go-to guy when it comes to understanding the local economy.

“Our region’s economy has lost steam and the slowdown is attributable to dysfunction on Capitol Hill,” Fuller noted in a report released by the Board of Trade. He said the region needs to reduce its dependence on federal spending and employment, no matter who might win the White House or control Congress.

At the Board of Trade event, Fuller predicted “very little economic growth in the region over the next decade.” The report said only three of 13 job sectors that Fuller studied were projected to experience job growth in the near future: business and professional services, leisure and hospitality, and health and education.

• Mazel tov!

We close the column this week by noting a historic first at Adas Israel Congregation this past weekend.

Founded in 1869, Adas Israel has been home to a wide range of historic events and viewpoints. Visitors have included President Ulysses S. Grant, who attended the 1876 dedication of the old site at Third and G streets NW; Martin Luther King Jr.; Golda Meir and so many famous others.

And now, as Rabbi Gil Steinlauf said on Sunday to applause, the long historic list includes “Michael and Alan.”

On Sunday, Michael Rodgers and Alan Roth -- partners for 17 years -- became the first same-sex couple to be married at Adas Israel in its 143 years. In addition to being historic, the marriage ceremony was warm, funny and heartfelt for the many guests (including your Notebook) who came from around the region and the nation to applaud.

During the vows, the couple stood in the center of the traditional chupah, open on all four sides as a show of openness and friendship to all who approach. “You are not isolated or alone,” Rabbi Steinlauf declared. “Your family, your community” are here, too, he said, “and [it’s] a joy for me.”

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