- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2011

In the course of five days last week, the District’s mayor was called a “crook” at a public hearing, the council chairman’s campaign committee was accused of widespread reporting violations, one council member disclosed he had been offered bribes, and another council member was accused of using his charity as a slush fund.

The round of dispiriting disclosures has left residents and observers fearful that the city, which Congress stripped of its financial authority just over a decade ago, could be backsliding into an era when inefficiency and accusations of abuse were commonplace.

But decisive action by the city’s attorney general suggests that allegations of public-trust violations - even by elected officials - might be handled differently than in recent years. Though complaints of wrongdoing against elected city officials have been rampant, indictments have been rare.

Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan took a significant step to perhaps change that pattern June 6 by filing a $1 million civil lawsuit against council member Harry Thomas Jr. and referring his case to the U.S. attorney’s office for prosecution.

The lawsuit, which accuses the Ward 5 Democrat of siphoning funds earmarked for youth baseball programs to pay for personal travel and a luxury sport utility vehicle, seeks “every penny” of any misspent funds.

And it’s the first meaningful sign of the attorney general’s independence and authority.

Upon taking office, Mr. Nathan moved his agency’s headquarters from the epicenter of city politics, at the John A. Wilson Building, to Judiciary Square, “where most of the lawyers in the OAG perform their daily work.”

Mr. Nathan’s predecessor, Peter J. Nickles, had been criticized for being too politically connected to incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

“The OAG must be - and must be perceived as being - independent and nonpolitical,” Mr. Nathan said during his March 23 confirmation hearing.

Early in his tenure, Mr. Nathan got mixed reviews by declining to investigate allegations by Sulaimon Brown - a 2010 mayoral candidate who testified last week before the D.C. Council that he was paid and promised a job by Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign to politically attack Mr. Fenty.

Mr. Nathan said the OAG’s efforts would be duplicative and perceived as in conflict with his position as acting attorney general, an appointment by the mayor.

But it left some wondering whether Mr. Nathan was dodging a politically sensitive investigation.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, a George Washington University law professor and head of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, said that to her experience politics doesn’t come into play.

“If I’m given a job, then that’s the job,” Ms. Cheh said, “and I’m sure Irv Nathan looks at it the same way.”

Mrs. Cheh held high-profile hearings during the last administration on charges that friends of Mr. Fenty’s facilitated the transfer of a D.C. firetruck to the Dominican Republic.

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