D.C. Mayor's Administration Mired In Scandal

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Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray was elected to office on a platform of anti-corruption. But just two years into his term, a federal investigation has left two former aides pleading guilty to misdeeds during the 2010 election. Gray has denied any wrongdoing. Host Guy Raz talks about D.C. politics with Washington Post reporter Nikita Stewart.


Let's go from national politics now to city politics and a case of shenanigans here in our nation's capital.

Back in 2012, Washington, D.C.'s mayor, Adrian Fenty, was defeated in his bid for a second term. Fenty was the youngest mayor ever elected in Washington, and by most accounts, he was among the most successful. But Fenty had also alienated a significant part of the electorate who felt he'd become arrogant and out of touch.

So in came Vincent Gray, the man who beat him and who is now the city's mayor. Gray had promised to bring integrity to city government, but in recent weeks, his administration has been mired in scandal.

Two former campaign aides have been charged with making illegal payments to a man who also ran for mayor that year, Sulaimon Brown. Sulaimon Brown didn't win many votes, but he mounted an aggressive campaign against the then mayor Adrian Fenty. And shortly after the new mayor, Vincent Gray, was inaugurated, Washington Post reporter Nikita Stewart was looking at the list of the people Gray hired for prominent city jobs, and she noticed something strange.

NIKITA STEWART: One person I noticed who was on the payroll was Sulaimon Brown, who had been the mayor's opponent. He was a minor mayoral candidate, but he was a thorn in the side of Adrian Fenty...

RAZ: During the campaign.

STEWART: ...during the campaign. He had a slogan: Vote for any color, Gray or Brown, but just don't vote Fenty.

RAZ: Wow.

STEWART: It was a line that got the crowds riled up. And it turns out that he, in fact, was being paid by the Gray campaign to attack Fenty verbally at various debates. And then he also said that he was promised a city job. Federal authorities haven't said that yet. But he got a $110,000 job, and it was an important job. It was in the health care finance agency that deals with Medicaid. That's one of the biggest expenditures for the city. He was put in that office as a special assistant.

RAZ: That's a lot of money, $110,000 a year, for a city job. Was he qualified for that job?

STEWART: The mayor - when it first came out in my story that Sulaimon Brown was working for the city - he kept telling everyone at press conferences he's qualified for the job. But then when you looked at his resume that he turned in to the city, it was missing dates. He had held a number of jobs as an auditor, but he had short stints at each firm. Also, Sulaimon Brown had an interesting criminal history.

We're talking about a restraining order that was never actually filed, but it was somehow on record, an attempted murder charge from years ago in Chicago. And after he was fired for various reasons, he came to me and he told me his story.

RAZ: Why did Sulaimon Brown come to you?

STEWART: Well, it's weird. During the 2010 election, I would see Sulaimon Brown at debates. We would exchange hellos, but other than that, I really didn't talk to him. And then the day that he was fired from his city job, I had never seen anything like this. The mayor held a press conference to explain what happened because, I mean, it was very chaotic. He was escorted out by security.

And the mayor held a press conference, and all of a sudden, Sulaimon Brown walks into the room. And at that moment, I thought, this is strange. And a lot of the media continued to question Gray, and I went and I sat next to Sulaimon Brown and I asked him, are you all right? That was it. And later, he called me and he told me his story.

RAZ: Is Vincent Gray - has he been accused of any wrongdoing?

STEWART: So far, Vince Gray has not been charged. The mayor has said he promised Sulaimon Brown a job interview, not a job, and that it certainly wasn't in exchange for disparaging Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail.

RAZ: This looks bad for Mayor Vincent Gray.

STEWART: It looks very bad, especially since he gave a lot of people hope in 2010 that they were going to be able to have access to the mayor, that there wasn't going to be what his campaign characterized as cronyism that occurred in the Fenty administration.

His campaign slogan was character, integrity, leadership. And now, people are questioning did he, in fact, steal the election, even if he wasn't aware of what happened. And the public is saying if you didn't know, you should've known.

RAZ: That's Washington Post D.C. political reporter Nikita Stewart. Nikita, thank you so much for walking us through that story.

STEWART: Thank you for having me.

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