Vincent Gray and D.C. Government: What Happens Now?
If Vincent Gray knew about the "shadow campaign" during the campaign, he should resign and be punished to the full extent of the law. If he didn't and this all happened because of his late entry into the race and some of his erstwhile "friends" running amuck because they thought they needed more money to run against Fenty's $5 million war chest, he needs to work with his lawyer now and craft a full and complete explanation of how this happened. He needs to apologize to the people of the District. I still want to believe that the Vincent Gray I have known for many years is the decent and caring guy I have always thought him to be. If he didn't know and will not be charged with a crime, he shouldn't resign because that may be even worse for the people of the District of Columbia.
As mad as so many are at the Gray Campaign, and as furious and disappointed as I will be if it turns out that Gray knew about what was going on during it, that doesn't translate into a wish for the return to the past. There were many reasons that the previous mayor lost the election and those don't disappear with this scandal. If it is proven that Gray committed a crime and is forced from office, it is time for the District to move forward, not backward.
In my 34 years in Washington, D.C. there have been countless hours of volunteer time spent supporting local candidates for elected office from ANC Commissioners, to School Board, Council, Delegate and Mayor. In those hours I have met some of the most committed and honorable people who were involved only because they felt they could do something to help those in need and move the District forward. For me civic involvement was learnt from my family and it was ingrained behavior from a young age. It began at 12, manning a storefront for JFK's election and working on Robert Kennedy's Senate race, and with William Fitz Ryan and Abe Beame and for Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo among others. There was often pride in those who won but of course occasional disappointment as well.
It is rare for anyone to be totally satisfied with a candidate one supports and too often today the choice of candidates is picking the lesser of the evils. Just look at the disappointment some of his most ardent supporters had with the behavior of President Clinton. But then take a step back and realize how much good he did throughout his two terms and remember that we were happy that those that called for his resignation early didn't force the issue. In the District of Columbia we have survived Marion Barry's four terms as mayor, and the voters of Ward 8 continue to elect him today. While people in his administration were indicted and jailed his first two terms were undeniable successes for the District, including the Reeves Center to spur the rebirth of 'U' Street and then later the Verizon Center to kick-start the rebuilding of Downtown.
While the disappointment some feel may not fade if Vincent Gray is cleared of personal crimes, making him resign may not be the best thing for the District. While it may be difficult for many voters to buy into his claim to separate his campaign from his administration, it is something we should do.
By nearly every measurable barometer, the District is doing better than it has in years. The response time to citizen requests for government services is down; education reform continues; the reserve fund has been rebuilt and is the envy of many other states and cities; budgets are balanced as required by law; tax paying residents are moving into the city in record numbers; the economy is booming; major crime is down and the MPD is finally making progress on the burglary rates. This administration is focused and working on the issues of the LGBT community including hate crimes as none in the past and we have an internationally recognized blueprint for improving our environment. The 100's of empty commission appointments left after the last administration are beginning to be filled. All these successes and the progress that is being made have of course been built on the work of past administrations but they have continued and been strengthened by this Mayor and his Administration.
Now none of this will matter if the mayor committed a crime. But if he didn't, it does matter to the people of the District that we don't move forward into the unknown with an unelected Mayor and unelected Council Chair who would be sworn in if we force Mayor Gray to resign now without being charged with anything. Councilmember Mary Cheh said she did the hard thing by calling on the mayor to resign. I rather think it was the easy thing to do. Calling on someone to resign is simple. Looking at the ramifications of that and being willing to stand by someone you claim is a friend until it is proven they have committed a crime, is often the harder thing to do.
I have heard the last mayoral race called a 'sham' and that the people were fooled. Some even suggest that if this "shadow campaign" hadn't occurred that the result of the election would have been different. I think that is pure fantasy thinking on the part of some and not linked to the reality of the extreme dissatisfaction with the last mayor. According to U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Thompson and Jeanne Clark Harris, they have been working this type of election fraud going back to 2001. They have donated money to nearly every Council member and to every Mayor. Jeffrey Thompson benefited hugely from the Chartered Health Care Alliance, which provides health care to the poor in the District. But we need to remember that he got that contract, however ill founded people think it now may be. First during Mayor Anthony Williams Administration and then kept it all through the entire Fenty Administration and the contract was approved by the Council. No Mayor could award that contract without Council approval.
The corruption of politics needs to be stopped. It is epidemic across the nation. When individuals can donate millions to "Super PACS," which are in essence shadow campaigns, and there is a Republican candidate for president who thinks corporations are people and they should have unlimited ability to influence campaigns, we know something is rotten. We know that when a New York Mayoral candidate can contribute millions from his personal foundation to churches and causes and then get rewarded with endorsements, things aren't as they are supposed to be. When there will be over $2 billion spent on the current presidential campaign, we know something is wrong.
But as we work on changing the rules, let us never forget that sometimes, no matter what the rules are, there are thieves and dishonest people who work in campaigns that need to be rooted out and punished individually. But like all of us, candidates aren't always personally responsible for the misdeeds of their friends. They, like us, need to root out the bad and we should hold them to a much higher standard because of the public trust they ask voters to give them. But they sometimes do fail, even unintentionally, and when they don't commit personal crimes they need to be honest with the public when they find problems.
That is why I join with others who are now calling on the Mayor not to resign but rather to work with his lawyers and craft as full and complete a statement as he can, describing to the voters what he knows and what he did when he found out about the issues surrounding this investigation into his campaign and D.C. politics. But the time has also come for the U.S. Attorney to wrap up, or at least tell us when, this investigation will come to a conclusion, and stop dribbling out bits and pieces in a way that hurt the District of Columbia maybe as much as the crimes themselves.
This article first ran in Huffington Post.