Michael Brown charge throws D.C. Council off stride

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The D.C. Council believed it had found its groove again.

Publicly and privately, legislators said the Wilson Building, once rife with speculation about looming indictments and the threat of raids, appeared to have relaxed after going a year without a lawmaker facing criminal charges.

"The council is as strong as ever," Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans said last week.

Then on Friday prosecutors made another move, charging Michael Brown, who was defeated in his quest for re-election last year, with accepting $55,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents.

"Even though elected officials are no better than ordinary people, citizens have a right to hold us to the highest standards," said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. "The present news is a reminder that our government has not lived up to those expectations."

He added: "Once again, the council, which has striven for a year to regain stability, is damaged by the specter of continuing corruption."

And that fresh wound, observers and city officials said, could have enduring effects as the District readies for a mayoral campaign and a set of races to fill council seats.

"There is no doubt that this has reverberations directly into the political season," said Chuck Thies, a political consultant. "It gets back to that 'kick out the bums' mentality, and even if you're not a bum, you can get kicked out in that environment."

But aside from the fallout at the polls, others said the latest allegations threatened to undermine months of relative calm.

"This is definitely a blow for us," said Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh. "I don't see how it could not tarnish us, which is really unfortunate, because I think the city is extremely well run."

And Cheh, who is up for re-election next year, said she didn't think the ethics problems of other lawmakers would threaten her chances or those of others who haven't been implicated in corruption investigations.

"I don't think that it will touch me personally," Cheh said. "When I go out and talk to people, people are unhappy about these developments, but they have usually couched it by saying to me, 'How can you stand this?' "

Mendelson quickly sought to use Brown's legal troubles as a motivational tool.

"It is my hope that those of us who have been elected to serve will see the news of Mr. Brown's plea as stimulus to redouble our efforts to improve ethics and regain the public's trust."

Brown is expected to plead guilty to the felony bribery charge, which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison, on Monday afternoon.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner