In D.C., fa­mil­iar names in fa­mil­iar places

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY MATTHEW CELLA

For­get Su­lai­mon Brown a minute. For us, the ques­tions started with a fence — a 6-foot, black, alu­minum fence built around D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray’s Hill­crest home.

The Washington Times re­ported in Novem­ber 2009 that Mr. Gray had the fence built in vi­o­la­tion of city height re­stric­tions and used a contractor not li­censed to do busi­ness in the city.

That re­port fol­lowed an ear­lier story in The Times that said the then-coun­cil chair­man’s long­time friend, who hap­pened to be a megade­vel­oper with projects pend­ing be­fore the D.C. Coun­cil, over­saw some mi­nor re­pairs at Mr. Gray’s house — work out­side the contractor’s or­di­nary scope of busi­ness that em­ployed sub­con­trac­tors also not li­censed to do busi­ness in the city.

And there were the pay­ments.

Mr. Gray pro­duced checks show­ing he paid mar­ket value for the re­pairs — checks that were dated af­ter The Times be­gan its in­quiries.

No crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing was found — or al­leged, for that mat­ter. As a re­sult of the re­ports, Mr. Gray was forced to take down the fence. Af­ter he was elected mayor, the po­lice depart­ment rec­om­mended it be re­stored (at tax­payer ex­pense) for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

But an indig­nant Mr. Gray at the time dis­missed the sto­ries as “un­fair” and sug­gested he was the tar­get of an agen­dadriven smear cam­paign prompted by his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies.

We just thought the is­sues raised im­por­tant ques­tions about judg­ment from some­one who re­ally should have known bet­ter.

The re­porter who wrote the sto­ries, Jef­frey An­der­son, went on in Septem­ber 2010 to look at Mr. Gray’s “kitchen Cab­i­net,” af­ter not­ing that the surging can­di­date had made crony­ism a cen­tral theme in his at­tack against in­cum­bent Adrian M. Fenty. Mr. An­der­son fo­cused on sev­eral long­time as­so­ciates with mixed records of per­for­mance that could — and, as it turns out, did — fig­ure promi­nently in a Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“D.C. may­oral can­di­date Vin­cent C. Gray prides him­self on loy­alty and longevity in his re­la­tion­ships, re­ly­ing for ad­vice on a small cadre of con­fi­dants and friends who are also es­tab­lished fig­ures in D.C. pol­i­tics,” Mr. An­der­son wrote.

Among those pro­filed in the story, head­lined “For Gray, crony­ism is­sue cuts 2 ways,” were Ver­non Hawkins, David W. Wil­mot and Lor­raine Greene. They sound fa­mil­iar? Mr. Hawkins, “a fix­ture on the Gray cam­paign trail,” as Mr. An­der­son de­scribed him, was back in the news last week. A re­port in The Washington Post sug­gested he or­ches­trated a par­al­lel, off-the­books “shadow cam­paign” to get out the vote on be­half of Mr. Gray in 2010.

Mr. Wil­mot was de­scribed as a main­stay “in lo­cal busi­ness and pol­i­tics for the past 30 years.” Mr. Wil­mot lob­bied for Wal-mart, which Mr. Gray an­nounced in Novem­ber would build six stores in the Dis­trict. The Times re­ported in Oc­to­ber that one of the stores is planned for a plot of land that Mr. Wil­mot has a fi­nan­cial stake in.

Mr. Wil­mot last year rep­re­sented coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat, in a cam­paign-fi­nance in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ms. Alexan­der’s con­stituent ser­vices spend­ing. Ms. Alexan­der will see two of the pro­posed Wal-mart stores built in her ward and re­ceived siz­able do­na­tions from Wal­Mart-re­lated in­ter­ests.

“A key con­fi­dant and Mr. Gray’s clos­est friend is his cam­paign man­ager, Lor­raine A. Green, who served as chair­man of his tran­si­tion team in 2006,” the 2009 story in The Times said.

Ms. Green, of course, has since been im­pli­cated by a D.C. Coun­cil com­mit­tee that said in an Au­gust re­port that mem­bers of the Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion en­gaged in crony­ism, paid salaries above le­gal caps and il­le­gally hired the chil­dren of se­nior of­fi­cials.

That re­port was prompted by the now well-known story of Mr. Brown, the mi­nor may­oral can­di­date who said he was paid and promised a job by the Gray cam­paign team to at­tack Mr. Fenty on the cam­paign trail.

In fact, that in­ves­ti­ga­tion spawned the wider probe in­volv­ing do­na­tions from pro­lific po­lit­i­cal con­trib­u­tor Jef­frey E. Thompson, his com­pa­nies and his as­so­ciates. WRC-TV (Chan­nel 4) has cited “sources” who say that Mr. Gray per­son­ally han­dled as much as $100,000 in checks from the Thompson net­work.

Now some other peo­ple — and by other peo­ple, we mean fed­eral prose­cu­tors — ap­pear to be work­ing to de­ter­mine for them­selves how much Mr. Gray knew about any ques­tion­able cam­paign ac­tiv­i­ties that may have been co­or­di­nated by his clos­est ad­vis­ers.

To be clear, no one has been ac­cused of any wrong­do­ing in con­nec­tion with the fed­eral probe, cam­paign fi­nance or the “shadow cam­paign.”

But those ques­tions about judg­ment just don’t seem to go away. the other cham­ber’s rules com­mit­tee, which then de­cides whether to re­fer them to a stand­ing com­mit­tee. The ses­sion ends April 9.

House and Se­nate law­mak­ers could pass dozens of bills Mon­day, in­clud­ing a weak­ened Se­nate ver­sion of the gov­er­nor’s bill to limit sep­tic sys­tems in new de­vel­op­ments.

The gov­er­nor’s bill would, in an ef­fort to curb pol­lu­tion, re­quire coun­ties to set rules reg­u­lat­ing where sep­tics can be used. But the Se­nate amended the bill Fri­day to give coun­ties full au­thor­ity over re­stric­tions and al­low the state only to sug­gest changes.

Sen. Thomas M. Mid­dle­ton, Charles Demo­crat who spon­sored the amend­ment on be­half of the gov­er­nor’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the change was made out of con­cern that state-man­dated re­stric­tions on sep­tics in ru­ral ar­eas would make land less at­trac­tive to buy­ers.

“If you do it the way the bill came in, there’s ab­so­lutely no recog­ni­tion of prop­erty val­ues,” Mr. Mid­dle­ton said. “You would have had a state agency that is go­ing to come in and doesn’t have to be ac­count­able what­so­ever.”

While bills that don’t pass in time for cross­over day will face an ex­tra leg­isla­tive hur­dle, that won’t nec­es­sar­ily make their ul­ti­mate pas­sage im­pos­si­ble.

Some bills with in­flu­en­tial spon­sors or sup­port­ers can get a late push in the ses­sion’s final weeks, as did last year’s suc­cess­ful al­co­hol sales tax in­crease, which wasn’t in­tro­duced un­til mid-march and passed its ini­tial cham­ber af­ter the cross­over date.

Law­mak­ers are un­likely to act by Mon­day on pro­pos­als by Mr. O’mal­ley, a Demo­crat, to raise the gas tax and im­ple­ment off­shore-wind en­ergy but have not en­tirely ruled out ei­ther bill.

The Se­nate also ap­pears con­tent to wait un­til af­ter cross­over day be­fore vot­ing on a pro­posal to le­gal­ize ta­ble games and add a casino in Prince Ge­orge’s County.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Fri­day that while law­mak­ers are ea­ger to move things along, some pro­pos­als are too com­plex to push through be­fore the dead­line.

“It’s go­ing to miss the dead­line but that’s all right,” said Mr. Miller, Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat. “It’s more im­por­tant that we know what we’re do­ing and take our time.”

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