Barras: Resignation or impeachment: Choose one

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

Why didn't other D.C. Council members join David Catania, Mary Cheh and Muriel Bowser in calling for Mayor Vincent C. Gray's resignation? Interim Chairman Phil Mendelson said it's "premature."

Seriously?!

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. told the public earlier this week that Gray's 2010 campaign was "corrupted" and "compromised by backroom deals, secret payments and a flood of unreported cash."

"The legitimacy of the election has been called into question," said Catania. While Cheh, who endorsed Gray in 2010, said "incalculable harm" had been done to the District.

Those comments came after Jeanne Clarke Harris pleaded guilty to violating federal and District campaign finance laws, obstructing justice, and engaging in fraud and giving false statements. She's the third Gray ally to be nabbed in the federal probe of his campaign that began last year.

There's more to come.

Harris used friends, relatives and employees as "straw donors" to pump $38,000 into Gray's campaign. Her starring role was "bagman;" she brought in $653,800 that financed a "shadow campaign." She hinted the money came from businessman and bundler extraordinaire Jeffrey Thompson. The idea for the operation came from someone in Gray's campaign.

"It's like a scene from "The Wire," said Bryan Weaver with D.C. Public Trust, a citizens' group pushing an initiative that would ban corporate contributions to political campaigns. Even if that measure had been in place, it would not have prevented what occurred in Gray's campaign.

The District certainly is suffering a plague of criminals: Nonprofit executives, Council staffers and business owners have been snagged in the three ongoing federal investigations. Felony charges were brought against Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. and Chairman Kwame R. Brown. They pleaded guilty and resigned.

Machen's office should not be left to battle this infestation of crooks alone. The full Council should join the fight.

Without apologizing for what happened, Gray said, "This wasn't the campaign we intended to run." But, as the candidate, he ultimately must be held accountable.

Thompson's alleged cash dump likely was a business calculation: His company, DC Chartered Health Plan, had a contract with an annual value of $350 million. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration accused it of overbilling the city and filed a lawsuit. The settlement cost Thompson $12 million. By 2010, Fenty was scouting around for another contractor. Interestingly, soon after being sworn in, Gray asked the Council to increase Chartered's rate of reimbursement; that meant $32 million more for Thompson.

Let's see; $653,800 brings in $32 million. Not a bad investment, wouldn't you agree?

"All that illegal money was for the purpose of steering to Jeff Thompson the largest D.C. government contact," said William Lightfoot, a former D.C. councilman who chaired Fenty's 2010 campaign. He said if residents had known the truth, they would not have voted for Gray.

"The only honorable act would be for him to resign," added Lightfoot.

If Gray doesn't step down, Congress should remove him. Voters shouldn't be required to mount a recall of someone who won an election by defrauding them.

Jonetta Rose Barras can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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