News & Politics

DC Mega-Contractor Jeff Thompson Comes out on Top; Mayor Mendelson Next?

A look at who wins in the campaign-finance scandal.

Finding the winners in Jeffrey Thompson’s plea deal is not easy: In court this week, Thompson pleaded guilty to a rash of 2010 campaign-finance violations that implicated, by description if not by name, everyone from DC mayor (and mayoral candidate) Vincent Gray to bit players in Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential run. The losers—including Vince Gray, Michael Brown, who comes off as the slimiest politician we have, and the voters—are easier to figure. A roundup of who gains:

Jeff Thompson

He admitted corrupting the 2010 mayoral race with $660,000 in dirty cash and secretly contributing more than $3 million to two dozen local and federal campaigns between 2006 and 2012, but he cut a sweet deal with federal prosecutors. In return for ratting out Mayor Gray and fingering other DC politicians, Thompson will likely never serve a day behind bars. Prosecutors waived the 18 months he might have served on the federal charges, and odds are he gets house arrest for the six-month term on the DC charges. Thompson’s goal was never to set foot in jail, and he might have nailed it.

Ronald Machen

The US Attorney finally implicated Gray in his three-year probe into corrupt DC elections. In Thompson, Machen has notched his eighth public-corruption plea from District probes, taking out three DC Council members and four Gray campaign aides. But for Machen to score a true victory, he and his investigators have to build a case based on documents and evidence that will force Gray to accept a plea.

“Anyone but Gray”

Democratic candidates for Gray’s office have already been all but sporting “Not the mayor” campaign buttons. Though Gray is not out of the race, and still has high approval ratings, his support in African-American wards east of the Anacostia River is eroding. Undecided voters will be looking for a new favorite among the leading alternatives: Muriel BowserJack Evans, and Tommy Wells.

David Catania goes all in by declaring his candidacy as an Independent running in the general election. After a Democratic primary season that lacked leadership, inspiration, and issues, the at-large council member could bring all three to the November vote, the first truly competitive general election under Home Rule. He has the best chance of beating Gray one-on-one.

The Washington Post

Jo-Ann Armao and her editorial page look smart in their crusade against Gray. After Machen tied Gray to the corrupt cash, Armao pounded Gray with caustic editorials for three days. But will the Post’s diatribes and endorsement of Bowser knock off the mayor and make her the Democratic nominee? If not, the Post will look weak and ineffectual.

Phil Mendelson

If Machen builds a stronger case in the next nine months, Gray might be forced to resign. Under DC laws of succession, that would make council chair Phil Mendelson DC’s first white mayor, temporarily.