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Did D.C.'s Old Guard conspire to derail Fenty?

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe
I am not prone to conspiracy theories. Black helicopters don't hover in my dreams.

Yet when it comes to the current crop of scandals closing in on District's political leaders, I find myself heading down a few conspiratorial corridors.

Was there a broad conspiracy, beyond the boundaries of a political campaign, to take out Mayor Adrian Fenty?

Let's recall Adrian Fenty's rise to power. At every step, the young man in a hurry swept aside pillars of the District's Old Guard. Charlene Drew Jarvis fell first. As councilmember for Ward 4, Jarvis devoted decades to promote business in the nation's capital. She was smart and charismatic and should have been mayor. In 2000, Fenty walked door to door in Ward 4 and knocked her off.

Next pillar of the Old Guard was Linda Cropp. Few gave Fenty a shot when he challenged Council Chairwoman Cropp in the 2006 Democratic primary. She'd been in D.C. politics for decades, from the school board to the council. Her husband, Dwight, served as Marion Barry's city administrator.

Fenty beat Cropp, bad, and left a very bad taste in the mouths of the city's Old Guard. They feared he was not one of them. He wasn't. They worried that he might not use the D.C. government as a source of jobs and contracts for Washingtonians. He didn't. Fenty hired people with talent rather than connections. He tried to turn off the spigot for shoddy contracts.

The first sign of the conspiracy might have come from Harry Thomas Jr., the defrocked former city councilmember. When Thomas chaired the committee that oversaw parks and recreation, he charged Fenty with violating laws and regulations by giving $82 million in contracts to companies controlled by two of Fenty's friends, Omar Karim and Sinclair Skinner. Never mind that Banneker, the company that got the contracts, actually did the work of refurbishing recreation centers and fields, Thomas branded Fenty as mayor who paid off his cronies. Thomas and the council appointed attorney Robert Trout as independent counsel to investigate Fenty's contracts. Trout absolved Fenty, after the election, but the dirt stuck.

Thomas, as we now know, is going to jail for stealing city funds at the same time he was accusing Fenty.

"The hypocrisy is deafening," defense attorney A. Scott Bolden liked to say.

Now we are learning that Mayor Vince Gray's insiders conspired to pay off Sulaimon Brown, a minor but noisy candidate, to harass Fenty during their political combat in 2010. Vernon Hawkins has not been targeted in the ongoing federal investigation, or accused of any crime. But he's central to my conspiracy theory. Hawkins ran the Department of Human Services into the ground under Marion Barry. The federal Financial Control Board demanded he be sacked for mismanagement in 1996, in part because he was caught writing checks to Barry cronies for questionable contracts.

Hawkins then turns up early on as a chief cheerleader for Gray to challenge Fenty, in order to bring back the Old Guard. Now Hawkins is seen as one of the Gray insiders who ran a "shadow campaign" to raise and steer cash outside of the city's election controls.

Political campaigns are one big conspiracy, I suppose, but if D.C.'s Old Guard deliberately used illegal means to knock off Fenty and regain power SEmD and money through contracts -- that's a conspiracy of a different kind.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com.

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