Let the Chips Fall Where They May
The raid on Jeffrey Thompson’s home and office and on Jeanne Clarke Harris’s office by federal investigators has created another political free-for-all in the media. Everyone is trying to figure out what happened and why and jumping to conclusions without the facts.
As someone involved in political campaigns since the age of 12, I realize that anytime there is money floating around in campaigns there are always people looking to get some or to curry favors by giving some. In our efforts to clean up campaigns we need to be careful we don’t make things worse. Councilmember’s Wells and Cheh are proposing solutions that could make it harder to raise money which could be good but will that then mean only wealthy candidates can run?
D.C. moved into the big-time when Adrian Fenty raised over $3 million for his first campaign and then over $5 million for his losing reelection bid. It wasn’t that long ago when reporters in this town thought raising a million dollars was too much. In 2006 Fenty became furious when told he shouldn’t consider running unless he could raise $1.5 million because he didn’t think he could. Today that kind of money gets you out of the starting gate.
The District of Columbia has moved quickly from being a small town to being a big city with the complex issues that big cities have. But in many ways we are still a small town and our political scandals seem overwhelming. We have few politicians and comparatively few people with real money involved in the political system so that when one person gets caught doing something wrong, or there is the hint of something wrong, the mud splatters all over the place.
Growing up in New York I saw a lot more scandals than D.C. ever had but there were so many politicians that a few scandals here and there didn’t throw everyone for a loop. There are of course just plain dumb politicians, but that isn’t an appellation anyone could apply to Vincent Gray. He is often considered the smartest person in the Wilson building. I still believe that he had no intention of doing anything wrong when he was convinced to run for Mayor. Clearly there were people around him who may have thought differently and were motivated either by greed or by the knowledge that to run a successful campaign you needed big money quickly. Does lack of intent to do wrong exempt Gray from responsibility, NO! But I just suggest before we assign personal guilt we let the U.S. Attorney finish his investigation and let the chips fall where they may.
There is a running commentary in the press and among some activists about what Congress will think and how what our politicians do will impact their actions. I think we need to get away from that discussion. The worst that has happened to DC in my 32 years here is the Control Board. If we look at D.C. today we are a stronger, bigger and better city than before. We have survived Marion Barry and some of his cronies going to jail and Marion himself going to jail. Developers in this town won’t stop investing if there is more wrong-doing uncovered because despite our politicians this city is a great investment and it is growing. The scandals haven’t stopped anyone from moving here and they won’t. So I think we should focus on what is great and happening here instead of spending time wringing our hands.
I am all for cleaning up politics but how do you explain newspapers in town that chastise current politicians but don’t give any coverage to the ones running against them? We will survive Harry Thomas and anyone else found guilty of a crime because we are bigger than our politicians. We are a great city and its time to focus on that and sell that. The investigations will go on and when we see the results the chips will fall where they may.