Bob McCartney, Washington Post columnist
It's been a rocky week for leaders in the District this week, as two former campaign aides to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray pleaded guilty in a federal corruption probe for making fraudulent donations to former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown, destroying evidence of those donations, and then subsequently lying about it. Those pleas are prompting questions about how much the mayor knew. Meanwhile, an apology from Councilman Marion Barry to one ethnic group wound up offending another. Washington Post columnist Bob McCartney spoke with Morning Edition anchor Matt McCleskey about these issues. Here are some excerpts:
On his comment that "Mayor Vincent Gray is either a fool or a liar —and I'm included toward the latter:"
"I find it hard to believe now that he knew nothing at all about [the illegal payments.] One of the people making these payments who has pleaded guilty — Thomas Gore — is somebody that Gray had known for 20 years. Now we know, one of the other people involved in this, although this person hasn't been identified yet in court, is almost certainly his former campaign chairman Lorain Green, and she was one of the mayor's closest friends and associates."
On whether D.C. residents think he is a liar:
"It's hard to know exactly what most Washingtonians think. We haven't had any opinion polls since this new information came out. But I can say this: we know from previous polls that Gray's support dropped a lot. His approval rating was only 32 percent in a poll in December, and that's almost entirely because of the scandals. So I would guess that this recent news has hurt him even more. Also, I was out in Ward 7 on Tuesday, talking to people there. This is Gray's own ward, east of the Anacostia River. People there didn't know the individual details, all the twists and turns in this complicated case, but there was a widespread sense there — and this is an area that went strongly for Gray in the election — that while they like all things that Gray has done for Ward 7, in terms of getting city loans, they were very disappointed in the city scandals."
On how this is affecting city government:
"It's certainly a huge distraction for the mayor, fellow politicians and the media. It's hard to get any traction on making any changes in the city in a policy sense when this is just dominating everybody's attention. Give the mayor some credit though, he's not paralyzed. He's doing business as usual as much as he can. He was in Las Vegas at the start of the week, trying to attract investment from retailers here in the city. He had a meeting with the press on Wednesday, his first day back. He went to this planned event in Adam's Morgan where they were widening sidewalks and putting in streetlights to help business. So he's sticking to his script."
On whether Councilmember Marion Barry did more harm than good with his comment on Polish-Americans in making his apology for disparaging comments to the Asian community:
"I think he didn't do more harm than good. I think that, for the Asian community, this was a very important meeting. This was something that Barry set up to patch things up for two earlier comments that offended the Asian community. This unfortunate comment about Polish-Americans was regrettable, it attracted national attention, national Polish-American groups demanded an apology, but I think that, for the Asian Community, just the fact that he made this effort will be positive."