Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 06/08/11

By Tom Sherwood
|  Tuesday, Jun 7, 2011  |  Updated 8:23 PM EDT
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Former D.C. mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown testifies before a D.C. Council committee looking into the mayor's hiring decisions.

Tom Sherwood

Former D.C. mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown testifies before a D.C. Council committee looking into the mayor's hiring decisions.

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If a city could hang its head in shame, then for the District of Columbia, this might be a moment to do so.

The surreal Sulaimon Brown hearing on Monday -- its insults, revelations, derisive laughter, anger and foolishness -- served to truly embarrass our city without shedding much light on whether Brown’s allegations of campaign corruption are true. But there’s enough “there” there that we hope the U.S. Attorney’s Office will get to the bottom of it.

Whatever Sulaimon Brown was or wasn’t paid to attack former Mayor Adrian Fenty during the campaign, he did get a $110,000-a-year job and extraordinary attention from the Vincent Gray campaign. As Ward 4 D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser said, citizens know something happened, they just don’t yet know what.

Meanwhile, on a different stage Monday, Ward 5 Council member Harry “Tommy” Thomas was trying to stand firmly on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, where he was declaring his innocence. But the political, and possibly legal, ground under him is giving way fast.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan issued a scathing -- there’s no other word for it -- report on Thomas.

Nathan said the city will go to court to civilly sue Thomas to collect “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in government monies that Thomas allegedly misspent “for his personal and political benefit.” The soft-spoken attorney general also said the case was being referred to the U.S. attorney for possible criminal prosecution.

In his amazingly detailed statement, the city’s chief law enforcement officer laid out how Thomas allegedly diverted for his own use money intended for children and sports teams -- the “kids” Thomas loves to talk about. The diversion included paying almost $60,000 for an Audi Quattro Premium SUV. Nathan said Thomas was “unjustly enriched.”

If even a fraction of the allegations are true, Thomas should consider his next move carefully.

And as if that weren’t enough!

Monday’s events followed a major editorial in Sunday’s editions of The Washington Post. Headlined “Michael Brown, gambling man,” it laid out a case against at-large Council member Michael Brown.

The editorial said that at the same time Brown was swiftly moving online gambling legislation through the council -- without any public hearings -- he also received more than $200,000 in 2010 earnings from his employer Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, an international law firm active in gambling issues.

The Post editorial page calls for “the appropriate officials” to investigate this gambling issue, and presumably that would include, again, the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ultimately, D.C. enacted legislation to allow “intranet” gambling from any computer located in the District. The D.C. Lottery already is busy setting up “hot spots” where you’ll be able to take your computer, register and gamble.

The city, Brown has said, stands to make millions from this new gambling income. But civic activists like Marie Drissel said the city is heading for a heap of corruption trouble with its gambling gambit.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans has promised to hold a hearing on the issue, but he hasn’t yet. He scheduled one council “roundtable” to discuss the issue, but that meeting was cancelled. A “roundtable” means reduced public-notice requirements.

The city deserves a full hearing on this gambling excursion, particularly since it appears Council member Brown has already won big.

Taken all together -- and there are actually more questions about other council members’ finances -- the city is sliding fast into the state of derision and distrust that characterized the 1980s and early 1990s.

More than a decade of work to revive the city’s reputation, begun by former Mayor Tony Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, now appears in jeopardy.

The stain is growing. A pall of scandal now hangs over the city government.

Who will fix it? How? And when?

The citizens await answers.

• Policing the police.

We had prepared a full column this week about the ugly incidents involving area police in recent days, but we’re going to come back to it next week.

More than just civil libertarians are alarmed by apparent incidents of police overreaction.

There were the Metro officers who manhandled a man in a wheelchair as they tried to arrest him, lifting him up and throwing him to the ground, where he lay bleeding. Disorderly charges against him -- it was all caught on cellphone video -- were dropped. He’s consulting lawyers.

There’s the case of the Maryland Transit Agency officers in Baltimore who detained a man who was openly taking video of trains that he likes. No charges were filed, and the agency admitted that no crime occurred. We’re still free to photograph and videotape public spaces, thank goodness.

Finally, we were on hand Saturday at the Jefferson Memorial when dozens of people showed up to dance. Hundreds cheered them on. It was all in reaction to the rough handling by U.S. Park Police officers of five people who were arrested a week earlier for dancing there.

Whether you found the dancing disgusting and disrespectful or a harmless lark, it’s the police action that should be the focus of citizens and governments.

But we’ll be getting back into that next week.

Our head is hanging too low for the city right now, with the odor of scandal heavy in the air.

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