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D.C. Scandals Take Their Toll On City Hall

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D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., shown here at a press conference outside city hall in June, settled the lawsuit that claimed he misused $300,000 of taxpayer funds. Now some of his colleagues are calling for him to resign.
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D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., shown here at a press conference outside city hall in June, settled the lawsuit that claimed he misused $300,000 of taxpayer funds. Now some of his colleagues are calling for him to resign.

The D.C. Attorney General has accused Thomas in a civil lawsuit of misusing more than $300,000 of taxpayer money for his personal use, in the form of a luxury SUV and golf trips.

It's just the latest revelation in a year that has brought one "-gate" after another in the District government. SUV-gate. Hirringgate. Members of the D.C. media haven't yet issued a label to the accusations leveled against Thomas, but "golfgate" is one option. And the scandals are starting to take a toll at city hall.

Council member Jack Evans has been on the council for three decades. He's seen firsthand some of the city's worst scandals and low points.

And yet, it's never been this bad, he says.

"A number of colleagues are under some sort of suspicion or investigation or being charged with things. It's never been so dramatic," says Evans.

Beginning with the WAMU News report about how a few children of senior advisers to Mayor Vincent Gray landed city jobs, it's been one scandal after another. Sulaimon Brown's quid pro quo allegations against Gray. Council chairman Kwame Brown's fully-loaded SUV leased with city dollars. And the corruption allegation involving Council member Harry Thomas Jr. may be the most serious yet.

But Evans says the scandals are damaging more than the city's reputation.

The constant drumbeat of bad news and outside investigations are beginning to scare away investors on Wall Street, he says.

They also don't help D.C.'s push for voting rights and budget autonomy.

"There's no chance in the world this Congress, viewing what's happening in the city today, would move forward and allow us anymore autonomy than we already have," says Evans. "I think this has been very damaging."

For Mayor Vincent Gray, the cloud of scandals hanging over city hall these days has been both distracting, and in his mind, unfair, because some of them originated before he took office.

At his weekly press conference Wednesday, reporters got a taste of Gray's frustration.

"You ask me about how I feel about it, of course I don't feel good about it, Patrick. Why would I feel good about it?" he says. "And I feel less good about that there doesn't seem to be any balance. Are you reporting about some of the good things we are doing?"

The mayor went around room, asking that question to other reporters. He then shut down the press conference as his staff erupted in applause.

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