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Not my problem

The Washington Post‘s editorial jihad against Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and his Team Thomas non-profit must have rubbed off on LL, who kinda got into it with Mayor Vince Gray today at his news conference announcing his pick for deputy mayor for planning and economic development and other staff.

LL asked Gray what his thoughts were on Team Thomas, especially in light of yesterday’s story in The Washington Times, which lists yet another developer who donated to the sports youth non-profit and alleges that developers contributed to Thomas’ 2006 campaign through Team Thomas—which LL is going to guess is probably illegal if true.

Gray said his news conference was about introducing his new staff picks, and he wasn’t going to talk about Thomas, who was at the news conference and was recently given the chairmanship of the Committee on Economic Development.

“You don’t feel like you have an obligation to talk about it?” LL asked Gray.

“I just answered that, Alan,” Gray said.

“So that’s a no?” LL said.

“That’s very perceptive,” Gray said, which was a pretty funny response.

Later, Gray told LL one-on-one that he doesn’t know the whole story of Team Thomas and it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment.

“I’m going to leave that to him to solve, he’s got to solve that .. I don’t want to get into the middle of his issues,” Gray said.

Only problem is: These are Gray’s issues now.

Gray’s new attorney general inherited an investigation into Team Thomas, and Gray’s position at the top of municipal food chain makes him by default the government’s moral authority.

There’s also the fact that Gray ran on a platform of an open and transparent government, and it’s become increasingly clear that Team Thomas is neither open or transparent.

LL’s perfectly aware that there is less than zero political incentive for Gray to rail against his close ally Thomas, and it’s probably the smart move for Gray to say as little about Team Thomas as possible. But leaders lead, Team Thomas stinks, and something needs to be done about it.

Let’s do a quick review: Elected officials are required by law to make public when developers and other business interests give them money, either through campaign donations, constituent service funds, or gifts.

We know from reporting done by the Post and Times that developers and other business interests have given money to Team Thomas. We also know from Thomas that he used Team Thomas money for trips to Las Vegas, Florida, and elsewhere, for reasons somehow tied to the organization’s official mission of getting youth interested in sports. But we don’t know how much was donated, by whom, and exactly what that money was used for—because Thomas never bothered to report it.

That’s not good government, by any stretch of the imagination, and Gray knows it.

Thomas has had several months now to make public what’s essentially very basic accounting: Who gave what, how was it spent? But Thomas hasn’t released anything useful to the public, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t. Sure, the A.G.’s office is currently investigating, but if Team Thomas is legit, then why not release its donors and expenses?

Instead, Thomas makes promises that he’ll release the info but never follows through, leaving LL and the four or five other folks who care wondering just which developers have been writing checks (and how big were they) to the city’s new overseer of economic development.

Obviously, hounding from the press is not going to get Thomas to release Team Thomas’ finances. But maybe a message from the new mayor that the city isn’t going to tolerate this kind of foolishness would.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery