June 13, 2011 | by Georgetown Saucer
Photo by The Georgetown Dish
A week ago Monday, D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan filed suit to recover from Councilmember Harry “Tommy” Thomas (D-Ward 5) some $300,000 allegedly diverted from youth charities into golf trips to Las Vegas and Pebble Beach, California -- plus a new $60,000 Audi SUV and other personal uses. The investigation spans two administration and two Attorneys General.
More than a few observers say the latest D.C. corruption charges merit a new high-water-mark of public concern.
"This doesn't have anything to with Marion Barry," says Washington's most trusted political analyst, NBC4's Tom Sherwood. "It's a different time of political and moral corruption."
Sherwood will this week publish a column in The Current Newspapers focusing on fundamental ethics issues that he says threaten to drag the D.C. government to a standstill. In a column whose working title is "Ethics for Dummies," Sherwood says it's gotten so bad in city government that simple rules like, "If someone gives you an envelope with money, don't take it," need to be spelled out.
Sherwood's gallows humor aside, the veteran reporter and author of the landmark book Dream City says a pervasive culture of corruption has come to define the Council, spreading into the Office of the Mayor. "For people who love the city and care about the city, there is no direction. We are not going forward, not going backward, we're frozen" in ethics investigations, Sherwood says.
Part of the problem is that Mayor Vincent Gray, a friend of Thomas, has not spoken publicly about the repugnant and well-documented charges facing Thomas. The silence, to many ears, is deafening.
This follows the Council-sponsored circus last week featuring fired Gray campaigner and staffer Sulaimon Brown, an ethics sore on the administration that continues to ooze. "It's not clear that the Mayor did anything wrong in the Sulaimon Brown case. But something happened. People need to know whether the Mayor countenanced or accepted money being handed out," says Sherwood. "Clarify whatever happened. You need to clear that stain away."
Stains, suspects, resignations, investigations. What happens next?
It is time for Mayor Gray to assert the moral authority of his person and his office and speak out on the Thomas matter. The Thomas charges are too destructive to the political health of the city to be without words of condemnation from our top leadership. Gray may need to call for Thomas to take a leave of absence from the Council -- at least.
Taking on the Thomas charges will help re-establish the moral authority the Mayor had when he earned respect in the Council for holding Councilmember Marion Barry accountable for Barry’s misuse of public funds for his girlfriend.
Conversely, not expressing concern about Thomas is for Mayor Gray akin to Democratic House leaders letting charges against Rep. Anthony Wiener go unaddressed. In not responding to the public's justified recoil, the Mayor will only strengthen his administration's worst enemies, desert his honest friends, and create a swift tide of voter anger that could develop into an electoral tsunami half way through year one.