Vincent Gray swept into the D.C. mayor’s office partly on his promise to weed out corruption and restore legitimacy to the city’s government. Two months into his term, Gray has failed to uphold that promise. The unscrupulous behavior of his administration may not be criminal, but it has seriously eroded what little trust D.C. residents still have in their government.
One of the most troubling reports concerns the political patronage provided to Sulaimon Brown, a small-time mayoral candidate who ran against Gray and incumbent Adrian Fenty in last November’s election. Brown was a quasi-cheerleader for Gray throughout the primaries, frequently taking the future mayor’s side at candidate forums and telling voters repeatedly “If you don’t vote Brown, vote Gray.” After Gray was elected, Brown was rewarded with a “special assistant” position within the Gray administration that paid $110,000 a year. Brown was fired last week after the mayor’s office caught wind of allegations made in 2007 that Brown had stalked a 13 year-old. This is political patronage at its worst, as an administration filled with sycophants will surely struggle to confront the very real problems the District faces.
Despite the weak economy and impending D.C. budget shortfall, Gray seems to have few qualms about spending taxpayer money irresponsibly. According to The Washington Post, Gray is paying his staffers substantially more than previous administrations, many of these salaries extending above the legal caps for their respective positions. Gray has told D.C. residents that next year’s budget will require sacrifices. Clearly he feels that burden of sacrifice should be borne by others. The preferred mode of transportation for Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown also reveals how woefully detached the administration is: until recently, both made use of late-model Lincoln Navigators. The mayor’s 2010 version costs almost $2,000 dollars a month to lease. Brown actually rejected one 2011 Navigator earlier this year and requested another because he disliked the color of the original’s interior, handing the cancellation fees down to taxpayers. The mayoral office announced last week that both SUVs will be returned and their leases terminated, but this response is too little, too late. Gray and members of his administration should be tightening their belts this year, not spending at unprecedented levels.
These unnecessary expenses are small in comparison to the million dollar budget shortfall D.C. is facing for this year, but they send a powerful symbolic message to D.C. residents. Voters deserve better than the same old cronyism and extravagant personal spending they have come to expect in their elected officials. Gray needs to clean up his image and become the mayor he promised to be. It’s going to take a lot more than simply dismissing Brown and grudgingly giving up his glamorous vehicle.