In early December, LL penned a column about D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray‘s political standing, shortly after accusations of financial misdealings hit the papers.
Therein, LL pointed to the then-ongoing probe into council contracting and earmarking practices being conducted by superlawyer Robert S. Bennett as “another looming matter that could shake the chairman’s standing in the public eye.”
Well, the Bennett report is out, and thus far, the chairman’s standing is solid. The investigation conducted by Bennett and his Big Law colleagues proved to be thoroughgoing, its conclusions incisive and its recommendations well-reasoned.
And Gray deserves kudos for how the release of the report was handled.
Neither the chairman nor any of his 12 colleagues were privy to Bennett’s findings prior to Tuesday morning, when Bennett sat before the council dais with deputy investigator Amy Sabrin and proceeded to publicly detail Marion Barry‘s multitude of misdoings. And Bennett did nothing to soft-pedal his most damning finding: that Barry had handed a contract to girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, then demanded part of the proceeds in return—what amounts to a kickback. Bennett’s report was also forthright about Barry’s attempts to derail the investigation—by refusing to answer key questions and attempting to keep Watts-Brighthaupt from handing over critical evidence.
The whole thing made for great theater, with Bennett detailing his findings as Barry sat before him on the dais, leaning back in his chair.
Gray hasn’t proven his stewardship of the city legislature just yet. That’s going to depend on how he leads his institution’s response to Barry. For one thing, the council will vote in the coming weeks to refer the Bennett findings to the new U.S. attorney, Ron Machen. And there will almost certainly be an attempt to censure Barry—an unprecedented council maneuver. Gray needs to make sure there are 12 votes for both those measures.
Beyond that, there is nothing in the council rules to allow the body to eject one of its members; the only way to oust Barry would be through an unlikely recall from the voters of Ward 8. (No public official here has even been recalled.) But Gray has other tools at his disposal. He could strip Barry of his chairmanship of the council’s housing and workforce development committee, for one. And he could call on Barry to resign for the good of the council.
If Gray follows through, his mayoral hopes might still twinkle.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery