Jaffe: The sons don't always rise

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen is taking his time to wrap up the investigation into Mayor Vincent Gray's corrupt mayoral campaign. Who knows whether Gray will take the fall, along with three trusted campaign aides who have already pleaded guilty to felonies?

Gray, ever the hard-working public servant, is soldiering on, as if there were no indictment hanging over his head. But in the minds of many Washingtonians, Gray is already in the rearview mirror. He appears to have stolen the election. He's lost the will of the people. The city feels leaderless to many. Chatter in cocktail receptions, lunch counters and street corners is all about Who's next? Who can lead the city and legitimize the government?

"Where's our Cory Booker?" asked a real estate executive, as in the telegenic and heroic mayor of Newark.

"We need somebody like Eric Holder," another friend said. "Would he run?" I pointed out that Holder has a gig, as U.S. attorney general, and he's not electable, should he suffer a brain freeze and deign to run.

Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty look better and better in hindsight. Neither would try again.

We have not done very well with home-grown talent -- for mayor or city council.

Sharon Pratt Kelly was elected in 1990 and served those brief four years before Marion Barry returned for his fourth term. She never found her way, ran up a huge deficit and was seen as a huge failure. Fenty, the next native Washingtonian, was fine by me but turned out to be a lousy politician. He lasted one term.

It saddens me to watch what's happened to the three second-generation politicians who saw themselves as the next slate of local leaders, mayor perhaps. Kwame Brown learned the political game from his father, Marshall, a Marion Barry operative. The son rose to council chair and was poised to run for mayor. But he succumbed to greed, falsified a bank loan application, resigned and could be on his way to federal prison.

Harry Thomas Sr. was a wonderful, raspy-voiced ward politician who worked his way up from janitor in the federal government to D.C. city council. His son, Harry Thomas Jr., was spoiled. He took his daddy's place on the council, stole from a city fund meant for poor kids, and he's doing time.

Michael Brown came from the most exalted roots. His father, Ron, was a kingmaker in national Democratic circles, both beloved and feared. He ran the DNC. He died in a plane crash when he was Bill Clinton's commerce secretary. As a lobbyist and now on the city council, the younger Brown has cut corners, run afoul of laws and regulations, run up debts. City investigators are finding irregularities in his campaign coffers. He comes off as damaged goods, like Kwame Brown and Thomas.

It's not as if the locals didn't have a chance to run the nation's capital. They just blew it.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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Harry Jaffe

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The Washington Examiner