New Mayor Brings Political Scandal Back To D.C.

The Nation's capital is no stranger to scandal. Three decades ago, Mayor Marion Barry was busted smoking crack in a motel. Since then, leaders in Washington, D.C., have worked hard to restore the city's image. But a series of scandals involving the new mayor and nearly half the city council have some questioning if the District is returning to the old days. Patrick Madden of member station WAMU has more

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Washington, D.C. - the city - has spent years trying to revive its image after former mayor Marion Barry was caught on videotape smoking crack in a downtown hotel 20 years ago. Indeed, the city's reputation has been improved. But now, Washington, D.C., is once again gripped by scandal.

Several city council members are accused under some kind of investigation. And the new mayor has been accused of promising a job and cash payments to a former campaign opponent, for help during last year's race.

Patrick Madden, of member station WAMU, has more.

PATRICK MADDEN: If dark clouds of scandal hang over City Hall these days, the man behind the most explosive allegations didn't dress for the weather. Wearing midnight shades that would make a Blues Brother jealous, former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown strolled into a city council hearing this week to air his accusations against Mayor Vincent Gray.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mr. Brown - I'm sorry, may I interrupt you? It would be preferable if you would please remove your sunglasses unless you have some medical reason. Mr. Brown?

Mr. SULAIMON BROWN: I'm not going to remove them.

MADDEN: Brown has backed up some of his claims with physical evidence. And he, in fact, did receive a $110,000 job with a city agency after the race. But he's also been called delusional by more than one city official, and others say his behavior - on display at the hearing - undermines his credibility. There was name calling, swearing and testy exchanges, like this one with council member David Catania.

Mr. DAVID CATANIA (Council Member, District of Columbia): The fact, Mr. Brown, you were all too fine and happy and satisfied with the arrangement, the fact that that was somehow taken away from you, you feel your sense of entitlement has been challenged.

Mr. BROWN: Is one of your two jobs a fairy tale writer? Because I don't know what you're basing this on.

Mr. CATANIA: No. See, sir, you turn on the...

Mr. BROWN: Now you know why I didn't want to testify before you, because of this - witch hunt.

Mr. CATANIA: I see why...

Mr. BROWN: Are you clear?

Mr. CATANIA: ...you were fired from...

Mr. BROWN: Witch hunt.

MADDEN: This year, it's been scandal upon scandal in the District. Besides the Sulaimon Brown allegations, which Gray has denied, the mayor has faced criticism for hiring the children of key staffers. The D.C. council chairman, Kwame Brown, is being investigated for allegedly funneling campaign funds to a firm run by his brother - although there seemed to be more outrage when he was caught using city dollars to lease a fully loaded, luxury SUV.

And just this week, another council member, Harry Thomas Jr., was accused of allegedly misusing more than $300,000 of city funds for personal gain, including the purchase of a luxury SUV.

Mr. JACK EVANS (Council Member, District of Columbia): It looks like a city government that has - is in a freefall.

MADDEN: That's Jack Evans, the city's longest-serving council member. He had a front-row seat for the scandal-ridden era of then-Mayor Marion Barry as well as the late 1990s, when D.C.'s finances where such a mess, Congress had to step in.

Mr. EVANS: At no time, during all of those time periods, have things been so unsettled.

MADDEN: Few have had more experience documenting the city's brushes with scandal than local TV journalist Tom Sherwood. The first reporter on the scene for Marion Barry's infamous, 1990 arrest, Sherwood's been covering local politics ever since. He says today's scandal's don't compare to the old days.

Mr. TOM SHERWOOD (Journalist): The difference is that in the '80s, the city was terribly in financial trouble, horrible trouble. Right now, this city is one of the best cities in the country - if not the world - in terms of the finances, the money in the bank.

MADDEN: And he's right. Despite the scandals, the city is booming. D.C. has the nation's hottest job market, one of the hottest real estate markets and - dare I say it ? - it's even become cool to live in Washington. Case in point: There's a big meet-up next week for people to show off their tattoos of the D.C. flag. And those shades that Sulaimon Brown wore to testify? Well, they've even become a popular fashion statement.

For NPR News, I'm Patrick Madden in Washington.

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