April 1 D.C. Mayor Primary: Top Candidates Tied to Corruption
By Marc Belisle
In the Democratic primary race for Mayor of Washington D.C., the top-polling candidates have been linked to money doled out by Jeffrey Thompson (shown above), an area businessman who has confessed to charges of orchestrating a massive shadow campaign during the 2010 mayoral election. The federal prosecutor said Thompson was running an “assembly line” of donations, handed off by various associates and hidden by accounting tricks.
With the April 1st primary vote bearing down, the crowded field polls roughly in order of candidates’ access to Thompson’s largesse:
- Incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray: 28 percent
- Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser: 20 percent
- Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans: 13 percent
- Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells: 12 percent
- Local entrepreneur, artist and activist, Andy Shallal: 6 percent
In 2012, Washington City Paper’s Loose Lips blog calculated that Gray may have received $105,000, Bowser $20,000, and Evans, $4,500, from Thompson. Wells was not subpoenaed and Shallal is running for office for the first time. Thompson is now charged with spending $668,800 – more than any candidate’s principal campaign—in illicit donations in the 2010 mayoral race, and the final analysis of how the money broke down is likely to be higher.
Thompson told associates that his donations “would improve the business climate…” So how has D.C.’s business climate ‘improved’ in the last four years? Look no further than the city’s new relationship with Walmart.
Gray wooed the retail giant and midwifed the arrival of its stores in spite of a passionate campaign led by local unions to prevent it. Broad opposition led the city council to pass a measure that would force large retailers without collective bargaining to pay 50% more than minimum wage.
During the council’s vote on the measure, Muriel Bowser said, “If this is about sticking it to Walmart, we should be honest and say so,” before voting against the measure. Walmart threatened to scrap its plans for D.C. unless Gray vetoed the bill, which is exactly what Gray did.
Activists in D.C. managed to lob a serious challenge to Walmart that could have reined in its business plan of destroying local competition and paying over a million Americans so little that they are forced to shop at Walmart. Walmart’s threat to pull out should have been meaningless, since it could easily have been replaced by a more socially conscious and worker friendly company like Costco. D.C.’s example of standing up to Walmart’s monopolistic influence could have spread and forced Walmart to change. D.C.’s two leading mayoral candidates, Gray and Bowser, killed it.
Gray and Bowser cut a ceremonial ribbon and greeted shoppers to the new Walmart store as it opened in December in Bowser’s Ward 4. Bowser supporters were on hand with petitions nominating her for mayor.
Apart from a cushy relationship with big business, top candidates offered a limp attempt at ethics reform. As chairwoman of the Committee on Government Operations, Bowser oversaw a watered-down ethics bill. The bill addressed “constituent services funds,” discretionary funds meant to help support constituents in dire straits by halving them from $80,000 to $40,000. The funds are controversial, though, for how they’ve been used, and the bill did little to regulate their use. For example, Jack Evans had spent over $135,000, 31% of his constituent services fund, on sports tickets between 2002 and 2011.
“The legislation leaves intact the current ‘pay to play’ system, preserves the use of ‘constituent service’ slush funds and allows council members to continue collecting tons of freebies and holding outside jobs. These practices make the city’s legislature a fun place to work.”
“I feel pretty good about where we landed,” Bowser said about the bill’s final draft.
The voters’ ongoing support for the mayor and the other high-polling candidates is something akin to Stockholm syndrome. The city needs an honest mayor who will develop local business, not sell out to competition-crushing monopolies that drive down wages. Campaign finance needs to be completely overhauled and the city needs real ethics reform. None of the top-polling candidates can credibly deliver any of this.
With the Feds cleaning house, electing any of the candidates currently under a cloud, in the primary or the general election, could be disastrous for the Democrats and the city. More high-profile arrests are likely in the city’s future. If the city elects a mayor who is then charged with a federal crime, D.C. would be thrown into political chaos that it cannot afford. Voters who want stable, honest and truly progressive leadership for an economically developing city should look far down the ballot on April 1st.
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