Given this week's bribery plea by former city council member Michael Brown, I am saving up to pay off my bets that Mayor Vincent Gray would escape the long arm of U.S. Attorney Ron Machen. People scoffed when I said Gray would skate. Now I'm thinking they were right. More on that later.
First, please indulge me: This is a column I never wanted to write. It is my last for The Washington Examiner. You will be able to read my columns on washingtonian.com next month, but I will miss the print essay. Since I started writing for newspapers in the mid-1970s, writing a city column for a daily paper was my dream. I aspired to throw prose punches like Chicago's Mike Royko or New York's Jimmy Breslin. I failed most days.
I am in mourning for The Examiner as a daily newspaper. Day after day, Examiner reporters covered the region and scooped the competition. Examiner alumni have gone on to report and break news for other publications. Democracy functions better with more voices and more reporters at newspapers that compete for scoops. The Washington region will miss The Examiner; politicians and corrupt officials can breathe easier.
My first column ran in The Examiner's debut edition, on Feb. 1, 2005, under the headline "What Makes us Washingtonians?"
Washingtonians have changed, at least the ones who actually live in the District. The city added 65,000 people since 2005, according to the census. The newcomers are younger, whiter and spreading east across the city to traditionally African-American neighborhoods. The Chocolate City I covered in 2005 has turned mocha.
The city government is more corrupt, which brings me back to Michael Brown and Vince Gray.
Brown is one of three former city council members who pleaded guilty to breaking federal laws in the past two years. Federal agents regaled us with photos of Brown taking $55,000 in wads of cash in return for promising favors to a city contractor, who happened to be an undercover FBI agent.
Brown's downfall could bring the feds closer to Gray for a number of reasons. U.S. Attorney Machen described how Brown laundered a 2007 campaign contribution from a businessman through Jean Clarke Harris. The businessman is believed to be Jeff Thompson, who allegedly financed a $650,000 "shadow campaign" that helped fund Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign.
Harris, a Gray confidante, has pleaded guilty to federal charges related to his 2010 campaign, along with two other Gray campaign staffers. All are cooperating with federal investigators. Michael Brown is singing, too. Gray has said not a word about Brown. They are very close. I sense Gray's in deep trouble because too many of his very close friends and associates were helping collect and spend what was essentially dirty money during his campaign. Too many are talking to investigators.
Pressed by reporters after Brown's day in court Monday, Machen said his Gray investigation is moving very quickly -- but not fast enough for me to write an Examiner column about it.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at email@example.com.