The firestorm ignited by Sulaimon Brown, a former mayoral candidate who told The Washington Post Mayor Vincent Gray’s campaign gave him money and promised him a job in return for his attacks on then-incumbent Adrian Fenty, will leave indelible scorch marks on Gray’s administration, political analysts say.

“It doesn’t bode well for an independent, strong mayor,” said Lorenzo Morris, a Howard University professor of political science. Though Gray may not be held culpable in this instance, “it does mean he’ll be vulnerable to continued investigations and accusations. And that may be what some people who would oppose his election would want because that would make him weaker in terms of dealing with the council and elsewhere.

“Many people wanted things to change under Fenty when there are accusations and investigations it’s hard to initiate policy.”

For example, Morris said, after President Clinton was investigated and later impeached, his policies became more conservative. “It was almost like he was a new president in a negative sense, in terms of the political left.”

Gray has emphatically denied any quid pro quo relationship with Brown, although the Post said that after investigating Brown’s cell phone records it found text messages and 29 calls from numbers belonging to the mayor and his personal aide, campaign chairman Lorraine Green and campaign consultant Howard Brooks.

Saying he found the March 6 report of Brown’s allegations “surprising, shocking and appalling,” Gray said in a statement Monday, “The reported allegations of payments to Mr. Brown are reprehensible.”

The mayor on Sunday also called for the Office of the Attorney General to launch a swift independent investigation into the matter. On Tuesday the office said, instead, it would step back and help facilitate investigations initiated by the Inspector General’s office and the Office of Campaign Finance.

“It’s important that we know for certain what has transpired relative to my campaign and Sulaimon Brown, and that the people of the District of Columbia have complete trust in their government,” Gray said.

These investigations represent a fast-spreading bog – begun when the Post published a story last month about high salaries and political hires in the new administration – that threatens to engulf Gray’s government. Brown was fired from his $110,000-a-year position as a special assistant with the Department of Health Finance after details of a potentially criminal past—including a 2007 restraining order against Brown for the alleged stalking of a 13-year-old girl—arose. In a previous interview with the AFRO, Brown emphatically denied the stalking allegations.

Department Chief of Staff Talib Karim also tendered his resignation.

Morris, the political analyst, said he is surprised Gray has been swept up in a scandal like this—although he believes there is a concerted effort by some local media to discredit the mayor. “I am surprised only because for someone with the years of experience in the council, who has himself been involved in investigations of elected members behavior as well as the investigation of a former mayor’s behavior, that he would – if at all involved in something like this – allow himself to be so implicated,” Morris said.

The investigations seriously undercut Gray’s cache with the business community and with voters, and further undermines the District’s ability to lobby on Capitol Hill, Morris added. “The task ahead, immediately – assuming he is exculpated, that he is not found to be involved in anything – is to reinstate not only electoral confidence but business confidence in his ability to manage and run the city.”

It’s a reality Mayor Gray seemed to recognize during a press briefing Monday, in which he acknowledged some mistakes.

“I take full responsibility for the missteps in our first 60 days,” said Mayor Gray. “We’ve also hired some very good managers and have done some very good things. But we cannot solve our problems if people do not have trust in their government. I am focused on ensuring fiscal stability, quality education and jobs for D.C. residents. I do not want to spend time on distractions because we have a lot of work to do.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO