Viewpoint: Cheh showed real courage with bold report

Mary Cheh was sworn in to her third term as Ward 3 D.C. Council member in January 2015. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2015)

By Chuck Thies

Most District residents were not tuned in to D.C. Council TV on June 14, but if they had been, they would have witnessed a rare act of courage from a local lawmaker.

The setting was a hearing to decide whether or not to release the findings of a months-long investigation into contract-steering, bid-rigging and other potential crimes involving a politically connected contractor, the Department of General Services and officials in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh took the lead in conducting the investigation and chaired the hearing during which her fellow committee members would vote on making the findings public.

Two of five committee members were no-shows, so Cheh called on D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to attend. Cheh was determined to make the report public, but the lack of a quorum could have jeopardized its release.

During the debate, which astonishingly included one council member advocating against releasing the report, Cheh dropped a bombshell. She declared that other council members had “materially diluted” the contents of the report.

Let’s pause here for a second. The above is well worth unpacking. Council member Cheh is telling us that there are significant details that are not being shared with the public.
We are in the dark.

It is rare for a council member to heap criticism on a fellow member, but even rarer when that criticism speaks to a cover-up or other purposeful obfuscation.

Cheh has earned our applause for what is truly a courageous act. Not only is she inside city hall, but she is taking on city hall.

I have no doubt that Cheh carefully chose her words and delivered them with a purpose.

That purpose? It is essential for entities impervious to political interference to investigate this scandal. The D.C. attorney general, D.C. inspector general, FBI and U.S. attorney all have jurisdiction. The findings of the report and subsequent responses from Bowser administration officials surely warrant further inquiry.

Indeed, when Mayor Bowser was asked if her administration would investigate, she stated unequivocally, “No.” That’s not acceptable.

Cheh’s report and all news accounts detailing the scandal describe questionable activities that lead to Bowser’s doorstep. Her top official, City Administrator Rashad Young, is mentioned numerous times in the report. And Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, has tried to dismiss the investigation as “malarkey,” but offered no substantive explanation as to why.

One can only hope that District and federal law enforcement officials have taken notice of a mayor who refuses to investigate potential crimes by government employees. As well, Cheh’s declaration that some of her colleagues “materially diluted” the results of an investigation should sound alarms that trigger an official response.

District residents owe a great thanks to Cheh for her determination to shed sunlight on this murky matter. Continued efforts to sweep it under the carpet are afoot. Hopefully, law enforcement officials will notice the many red flags flying over city hall and take appropriate actions.

Chuck Thies, a local political and media consultant, was treasurer and communications director for Ward 7 D.C. Council member Vincent Gray’s 2016 campaign and managed Gray’s 2014 mayoral re-election bid.