Barras: Thwarting Democracy in D.C.

Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

The "shadow" operation of Vincent C. Gray's 2010 mayoral bid isn't simply a campaign finance story. For me and others, it's a tale about the stunning degradation of the democratic process.

The narrative may lack reports of barbaric acts that sometimes mark foreign elections. Still, in 2010, Democracy was thwarted in the District. Former President Jimmy Carter surely must be suiting up to monitor the city's November general election.

In 2010, unbeknown to voters, a minor mayoral candidate was paid cash and promised a government job by another candidate to distract and misinform voters by engaging in a form of character assassination against the incumbent. That conspiracy appears to have involved the then-sitting chairman of the D.C. Council -- a person charged with upholding the laws of the city and the United States.

Even more egregious, court documents suggest cash, food and gift cards, among other things, were provided to voters in certain wards; apparently there was an unspoken agreement that recipients of this largesse would mark their ballots for Gray.

"It's one thing to have an infraction. It's another thing to have a scheme," said civic leader Terry Lynch. "They compromised the very basis of what our Democracy is all about."

Despite the excessive infusion of cash at the national and local levels, Americans expect candidates to follow election laws and rules of engagement. They expect sufficient disclosure, allowing them to educate themselves about a specific candidate and his campaign.

Gray's 2010 campaign did not meet those expectations. It breached election laws and denied voters critical information.

"He was elected under a falsehood and false pretense. [He] deprived the voters of material information on which to make a decision," said former D.C. Councilman William Lightfoot, who also chaired Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's 2010 re-election campaign.

"As a voter I have to be angry. This wasn't a fair election," said E. Ethelbert Miller, a civic activist and chairman of the board of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Unfair advantages emanating from paid assaults on Fenty by Gray's campaign about which neither Fenty nor the voters knew, a massive vote-buying system in certain wards and collection of contributions that exceeded the allowable limits represent indisputable evidence that the 2010 primary election of Gray was illegal. That means his current mayoral administration is an illegitimate regime.

"Maybe [Metropolitan Police] Chief Cathy Lanier should run the city until Democracy can be restored to the citizens of D.C.," said Miller, making the analogy between foreign countries and the District.

On a personal note: It's hard for me, an African-American from the South, to ignore the destruction of Democracy exacted by Gray's 2010 campaign crew. It has been less than 50 years ago -- after hard-fought battles, where lives were imperiled and too often lost -- that the 1965 Voting Rights Act fully enfranchised blacks. The gang of criminals operating in 2010 under the auspices of Gray's campaign made a mockery of those sacrifices.

For that and other reasons, we should all be appalled.

Jonetta Rose Barras can be reached at

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

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