To mayoral allies and mayoral adversaries alike, Sulaimon Brown represents a walking, talking symbol of all that ails Vince Gray. The onetime fringe mayoral candidate—who, if you’re just joining us, landed a six-figure city job in January, was promptly sacked amid reports about his past, then accused Gray of giving him the job in exchange for secret campaign-trail help—became our great political Rohrshach test. Gray’s supporters considered him a political huckster who threw the mayor off stride. Gray’s foes made him a sunglasses-wearing vehicle for endless told-you-so taunts about putting the old guard back in charge. Both views, though, treat Brown as a major factor in the year. But for the allegations like his, the logic goes, Gray’s administration would be trundling along.

Nonsense. A counterfactual history of 2011—one without Sulaimon, nepotism, or even fancy official cars—hardly offers a picture of progress. Gray, after all, ran for mayor with no particular agenda other than making nice with groups who felt disrespected by his predecessor. When he visited Washington City Paper last year, he could scarcely name a Fenty policy he’d reverse. Even if he’d had ambitions, he wouldn’t have had much room to act: He inherited a budget too flimsy to support some frenetic action plan. Against that backdrop, in fact, Brown represents a pretty convenient scapegoat. Without him, the Gray administration would be the same uninspiring, unremarkable outfit it is today. But it would be evident that the plodding was no accident. And the news consumers who’ve enjoyed Brown’s zany star turn would have had a lot less fun.