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Back in January, you’d have to have been a hardcore local news follower to even know who Ron Machen was. But in the pesky 12 months since—featuring Sulaimon Brown’s job, Kwame Brown’s brother, an FBI raid on Harry Thomas Jr., and other zany hijinks—it’s safe to say things have changed. Water-cooler gossip in the Wilson Building these days involves swapping rumors about which pols are going to get indicted, and when. Which makes Machen, a former Stanford University wide receiver and a Harvard Law School grad, the most powerful man in town.

In a city with a long history of electing unconnected outsiders to its top job, this might lead some people to see the U.S. Attorney as a potential mayor. Plenty of ambitious prosecutors elsewhere—think Rudy Giuliani in New York City—have ridden the crusading-attorney shtick right into executive office. Here, however, Machen’s ability to grab the local soapbox is complicated by the District’s colonial status, which makes locals more likely to resent the intrusions of anyone who draws a federal paycheck. Machen may have the legal authority to turn every crooked District pol into a criminal defendant, but he’ll have to manage the optics carefully if he wants to actually win those cases.