Nickles-Gray Feud Tipping AG's Hand?

D.C. AG may be getting too political

It may be time for D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles to cash it in.

Nickles served the people of the District well in the first years of his tenure. He went after lazy landlords to improve conditions for tenants, worked to improve child and family services, obtained relief for the victims of predatory lenders and shut down businesses that were fronts for crime.

But as D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray rightly claims, Nickles is now acting as Mayor Adrian Fenty’s “political hatchet man.”
Gray says Nickles has politicized his office, which is “inappropriate at best, and illegal at worst. And by protecting the mayor’s cronies, he has put the interest of the mayor squarely ahead of the interest of his actual client.”

Gray, by the way, backed Nickles’s confirmation in 2008.

Washington Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe has a point when he says Gray “had many opportunities to call for Peter Nickles’ head,” but didn’t do so until Gray was running for mayor. Still, that doesn’t undermine Gray’s point that Nickles is no longer serving the city.

The Washington Post says Nickles, “a friend of the Fenty family’s, has long been dogged by questions about whether he is independent enough.” Any claim that Nickles puts D.C. ahead of Fenty’s interests collapses in the wake of Nickles’s recent $550,000 settlement with Fenty’s frat brothers at Banneker Ventures.

Last Friday, the Council held a hearing on the settlement -- which Nickles agreed to without consulting its elected members. Nickles didn’t show. He was off in Maine on vacation.

Washingtonian’s Alyssa Rosenberg writes, “It’s summer. People go on trips. And during a big political year, people sometimes schedule hearings during those trips to make their opponents look bad. That said, could Nickles have postponed the trip once it became clear there’d be questions about the payments to Banneker Ventures?” Or couldn’t he at least have sent someone from his staff?

The Banneker issue alone might not be enough to merit Nickles’s resignation. But Nickles told the Post that “he plans to investigate Gray for possible cronyism because of alleged ties to the winner of the city's multimillion-dollar lottery contract.” Nickles said of Gray, “He should have picked on someone else, because I am not going to stand by and have these outrageous assertions be made.”

Think about that threat for a moment. Nickles did not say he was going after Gray on the merits of the lottery contract allegations. He said he would use the power of his office to take on a political opponent because Gray dared to criticize him. That could be viewed as abuse of power, which could disqualify Nickles from continuing in his job.

And if that's the case, Nickles should resign, before the September primary. If he doesn’t, Fenty should take action.

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