If 2011 has left us with any political message at all, it’s that the term annus horribilis has to be recalibrated now and again, just to be relevant to a new generation. 2011 begin with the inauguration of Mayor Vincent Gray, and saw a nearly uninterrupted run of DC political scandals. The sheer quantity, if not quality, of these scandals runs fairly deep into the WTF scale (similar to the Beaufort scale, the WTF scale is measured in the amount of “This Blows” that local citizenry experience.) and have left many disillusioned and remembering the Fenty Administration fondly.
While this list is hardly comprehensive, the sheer volume of scandals this year make it impossible to pare it down to a single article, these are the five worst of the local political scandals to have rocked the DC area in 2011.
Number Five: “Put it in your panties.“
Jack Johnson, on the phone to his wife Leslie Johnson, as the FBI was pounding on their door, waiting to search their home. Former Prince Georges County Executive Jack Johnson went on trial this year for corruption, related to payments made to him by developers in a pay for play scandal. He roped his wife Leslie into participating as well, and both will begin their prison sentences this year, him for 7 years, her for 12-18 months. The famous climax of the scandal was the $79,000 stuffed in her brassiere as she left, but the lasting gift was the audio from the FBI recordings as linked above, which has one of the best phrases of 2011: “Put it in your panties!”
This quote works in just about every situation.
Number Four: ANC5B’s descent into madness, $30,000 in missing money
When the chair of your Advisory Neighborhood Commission is alleged to have emptied the bank accounts (to pay his car note, natch.) with an shadily acquired ATM card, to the tune of $30,000, and then steps down, you’re in for some hard times. The problem is, that just started some of the chaos that followed. Numerous meetings were required with the remaining commissioners, and some got quite heated. Quorums that were required unmet for significant periods, delaying replaced officers, and requiring the city’s ANC liaison’s attendance at numerous meetings.
The city has settled with Shelton this week for repayment terms, according to the Post’s Mike DeBonis, include a $5,000 down payment, and $200/mo for the next 125 months. No interest has been assessed by the city in this settlement, granting Shelton a tax-free, interest-free loan in the matter. His case will likely also include federal prosecution, but the money settlement is a bit milquetoast.
Number Three: Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr has home raided
Imagine the scandal of William Shelton, but writ much much larger. Councilman Thomas is alleged by the city to have misappropriated a significant amount of money (around $300,000) that was earmarked for a youth sports program, instead spending the money at Hooters, golf trips, and a luxury SUV for himself. The City Paper dissected some of the Team Thomas financials, which track the money earmarked by the council supposedly for use by youth sports programs to other sources unrelated to youth sports.
In addition, Brookland Heartbeat suggests that Thomas’ troubles might be a whole lot deeper, as the raid may have been related to two other grants totaling $832,000 that have concerningly light paper trails and connection to Thomas’ involvement in another youth activity program and a gang-prevention program. Look for this one to get worse before it gets better. Like Shelton, Thomas has agreed to repay the money involved so far, over three years, and without penalty or interest. He remains under federal investigation.
While Thomas was stripped of his committee by the city council, the council has taken no other action. A few of his cohorts have called for his resignation, but none have stuck.
Number Two: Fully Loaded.
Hooboy. Just weeks into his term as the Council’s new Chairman, Kwame Brown found himself embroiled in an ugly scandal involving his official vehicle from the city, which his staff requested be “fully loaded” and have a “black on black” interior, to match the Navigator that new Mayor Vincent Gray has. The lease on the vehicle turned out to be as much as a DC mortgage payment at $2,000/mo.
Unfortunately, that message wasn’t correctly read by the city, though, and they got him a grey interior initially. This was unacceptable, and his office ordered a new one that was correctly configured, again, Fully Loaded. That meant that the city was on the hook for two Navigators for the council chair. In the end, that one was returned ($5,000+ including early termination fees) and the correct one was returned after the hue and cry ($12,000+ including early termination) and lead Chairman Brown to show off some new old wheels: a black Jeep mail truck.
The ensuing investigation by councilman Tommy Wells from the Transportation Committee eventually cost Wells his committee, though, as he didn’t realize he was supposed to smooth everything over for the new council chair, instead of making things a whole lot worse. in a shuffle that neat placed several long knives in the back of Wells, Brown shuffled off Wells to the Libraries, Parks and Recreation committee
Number One: Sulaimon Brown
I don’t think I can write too much here without getting into a bit of a froth, but suffice it to say it took many by surprise when fringe mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown was hired by the Gray Administration to work in the Office of Health Care Finance to be an auditor, and earn approximately $110,000 per year in the city’s employ. Brown lasted about two weeks.
TBD had a fairly comprehensive take-apart of what happened next written by Erik Wemple and Kevin Robillard, back when some top names still worked for the organization. Essentially, Brown lost his job for failing to get along with his new coworkers, and began to make some seriously outlandish accusations, including that the Mayor’s campaign had paid him approximately $44,000 for his continued attacks on Mayor Fenty, and also promised him a job in the Gray administration.
These were earthshaking accusations, put off only by how completely unhinged and crazy Brown appeared. He crashed Mayor Gray’s press conference, turning the whole thing into a circus, and then resisted multiple council and federal subpoenas for his testimony in the matter. He finally did testify before the City Council, and though he left the juiciest bits of his side of the story out – at the request of the FBI – he did it with an absolutely amazing style. Brown wore sunglasses the entire day, frequently made personal attacks on council members during his testimony, and generally made an ass of himself.
The biggest question out of this was – how much of what he said was true? Could he really be so crazy as to have said these things without backup? Worse – what if he had the proof he suggested he did, and the city hired him anyway?
This one may not have made the national news, like so many of the other scandals here this year, but boy did this one prompt the most embarrassing questions.