We’re taking the next two weeks off to celebrate -- or maybe just observe -- a significant birthday.
But we didn’t want to leave without a roundup of summer headwinds.
By week’s end, we might have a formal response from Ward 5 D.C. Council member Harry “Tommy” Thomas to the civil suit filed against him by D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan.
Nathan has detailed what he says are hundreds of thousands of city dollars Thomas allegedly spent for his personal benefit instead of on programs for young people.
More than a few people are waiting to see what, if any, explanation Thomas can offer up. In addition to the civil suit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case for possible criminal violations.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown also now has his legal fate in U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.’s hands. Brown’s 2008 re-election committee is having trouble explaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and expenditures.
D.C. elections board chair Togo West -- as we reported last week -- said the board requested the inquiry into Brown’s committee because members felt there might have been “criminal” violations of the city’s election laws.
West said he expects the FBI to use the full force of its powers to pursue the Brown campaign allegations. Many citizens are hoping the same will be true of the other cases.
The travails of Brown and Thomas in recent weeks have overshadowed the still-brewing campaign scandal involving Mayor Vincent Gray and minor candidate Sulaimon Brown. But don’t take silence as an indication that the case is going nowhere.
U.S. Attorney Machen has an extraordinary opportunity and responsibility to flush out all three of the cases. The city’s politics are at minimum smeared and at worst corrupt while all these charges and allegations hang out there.
Machen got the Mayor Gray case back in early March.
He has publicly commented on public corruption several times.
In August of last year, two employees of the city’s technology office were sentenced to prison terms for corrupt contracting.
Machen minced no words. “The residents of the District of Columbia deserve an ethical government with ethical employees and have the right to know that their money is being spent honestly and for the public good,” he said. "The prison sentence[s] should send a strong message to any public official who may be tempted to accept a bribe or kickback that we will not tolerate corruption."
Both D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang and Greater Washington Board of Trade president Jim Dinegar have told NBC4 that the taint of corruption and scandal is doing serious damage to the city’s image and its ability to attract new businesses and jobs.
Dinegar told us the city has “squandered” some opportunities. “Any missteps, any headlines other than how great we are ... don’t help the situation at all.”
• Wells weighing future?
Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells is still smarting over Chairman Kwame Brown’s decision to strip him of the transportation committee chairmanship. Wells has tried to take the high road by not personalizing the battle with the chairman and promising to do his best no matter what committee he leads.
But we pressed Wells on the Kojo Nnamdi’s “The Politics Hour” on WAMU last week. There have been rumblings that Wells is considering a run for chairman should Brown seek re-election or be forced by the criminal probe to step aside.
After hemming and hawing and trying to cling to the high road, Wells told us this:
“Vince Gray was an extraordinary chair. Our approval ratings were at 67 percent, which was bizarre almost for an elected body. That has plummeted. And so we need a strong chair that can operate our government in a way that it restores ... the confidence of the people we govern. And we’re not there right now.”
• That SUV problem?
Back at the start of the year, Council Chairman Kwame Brown vowed to repay the city for any expenses attributable to him for the “fully loaded” SUV scandal. As you recall, the city wound up ordering two SUVs because Brown objected to the color scheme of the first one.
City officials say they’ve settled one of the leasing contracts and are still working on the other. But there’s no word yet on how much Brown will be assessed to make good on his promise.
• Good news ending.
Let’s wipe away the bitter taste of scandal with this last item. Last week a huge crowd of customers, old friends and folks who were just curious showed up at a party that raised $30,000 for displaced employees of the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill. The 65-year-old dive bar (that’s what THEY call it) was seriously damaged by fire recently. It won’t reopen until the fall.
The $30,000 will help ease the burden for the workers. Congratulations to all.