Vincent Gray campaign aide Thomas Gore pleads guilty to election violations

Vincent Gray campaign aide Thomas Gore pleads guilty to election violations

By Del Quentin Wilber, Washington Post, Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 1:47 PM

A key finance official on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign admitted in federal court Tuesday that he helped to secretly finance the campaign of a minor candidate to bolster his boss’s prospects and then destroyed a ledger detailing the payoffs.

Thomas W. Gore pleaded guilty to three D.C. election law misdemeanors and a federal charge of obstruction of justice, and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their wide of Gray’s mayoral campaign.

Gore, a longtime confidant of Gray, is the first person to admit wrongdoing in the ongoing federal investigation, and he faces 12 to 18 months in prison under sentencing guidelines. No sentencing date has been set, and depending on Gore’s cooperation, prosecutors might seek to further reduce his sentence.

Wearing a dark suit and tie, the 56-year-old Gore was subdued during a lengthy hearing, answering, “Yes, your honor” and “I understand” to questions posed by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

“How do you plead?” the judge asked at the end of the 90-minute hearing.

“Guilty,” Gore replied.

Although federal prosecutors did not name Gray (D) or his campaign in court records, Kollar-Kotelly pointedly asked Gore to identify what was described in the plea documents as “Candidate A” and “Campaign A.” Hesitating, Gore finally said, “the campaign for Vincent Gray.”

Surrounded by friends and family as he left the District’s federal court, Gore declined to comment. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said Gore “pleaded guilty because he wanted to accept responsibility for his role in this endeavor and he thought it was the right thing to do. He wanted to acknowledge his missteps.” Cooke added that he expected others to be charged in the investigation.

A friend of the mayor’s for two decades, Gore was treasurer of Gray’s 2004 D.C. Council run and his successful bid two years later to become the body’s chairman. As assistant treasurer of Gray’s mayoral campaign, he handled the day-to-day finances, Justice Department prosecutors said.

To enhance Gray’s chances during the Democratic primary, Gore and others on the campaign began scheming as early as June 2010 to keep minor candidate Sulaimon Brown in the race so he could continue to assail incumbent mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on the campaign trail. Their solution, prosecutors said, was to funnel “excessive or unattributed” campaign cash to Brown through money orders.

In June and July of that year, Gore used excess campaign funds to purchase $660 in money orders from stores near the campaign’s headquarters. He then gave the money orders to a member of the campaign who is identified only in court papers as “Person A.” However, people familiar with the investigation but not allowed to speak publicly said that person was Howard L. Brooks, a consultant who was paid $44,000 by the Gray campaign. Brooks, who was also a longtime golfing buddy of Gore, has not been charged.

To disguise where the money originated, Person A signed the names of family members on four of the money orders and had a relative sign the name of a friend on a fifth one. Person A then delivered the payments to Brown, who deposited them in his campaign bank account, prosecutors said.

Gray defeated Fenty in the primary and cruised to a general election victory in November. The Washington Post reported in March 2011 that Brown claimed to have received cash and money orders from the Gray campaign to stay in the race and disparage Fenty. In exchange, Brown claimed, he was given a $110,000 job in the Gray administration. Gray has denied Brown’s allegations, which sparked the federal probe that has since become an inquiry into alleged campaign-finance abuses.

After reading The Post story, which prosecutors referred to in court papers as “media reports,” Gore shredded a spiral-bound ledger that recorded the illicit payoffs, court records show.

He also admitted that he lied to federal investigators months later when he told them he had never kept a ledger and had not told anyone about the notebook. In fact, prosecutors said, he discussed the ledger and admitted destroying it in a conversation with Brooks.

Gore told the judge Tuesday that his comments about shredding the ledger were captured on “a wire.” At the time, Brooks was cooperating with federal authorities and wore a recording device to that meeting with Gore, according to people familiar with the probe.

Brooks could not be reached Tuesday, and his attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, declined to comment.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

Thomas Gore, Vincent Gray campaign aide, charged in ongoing federal probe

Thomas Gore, Vincent Gray campaign aide, charged in ongoing federal probe

By Nikita Stewart and Del Quentin Wilber, Published, Washington Post: May 21

A close friend of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s was charged Monday with destroying records and making illegal campaign contributions, becoming the first person incriminated in a wide-ranging federal investigation of Gray’s 2010 campaign.

The charges involve minor D.C. election law violations, but the accusations are likely to increase scrutiny of Gray’s election efforts and his term as mayor. The allegations first surfaced in March 2011, just months into Gray’s term, and have dogged him and the city since.

Reached in Las Vegas, where he is working to attract business to the District, Gray declined to comment. His office referred all calls to the mayor’s criminal defense lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, who said: “It’s a pending investigation. I don’t have any comment.”

The allegations involve one of Gray’s longtime friends and associates, Thomas W. Gore, who acted as the 2010 campaign’s assistant treasurer.

Monday’s charges came in a “criminal information,” which can be filed only with the defendant’s consent and signals a plea deal is near. Gore is expected to appear in the District’s federal court Tuesday at a “plea agreement hearing,” according to the court’s Web site. His attorney said Gore is cooperating in the criminal investigation.

Gore, 56, is accused by federal prosecutors of providing a rival candidate $535 in illegal campaign contributions in June or July of 2010 and then destroying a spiral-bound notebook that documented the payoffs. The donations were made through money orders “in the name of another person,” prosecutors said.

Court papers allege that Gore got rid of the notebook “on or about” the day The Washington Post published an article saying that minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown claimed that he had received money orders from Gray’s campaign in exchange for attacks against incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Gray later defeated Fenty in the tightly contested Democratic primary and coasted to a general-election victory.

Gore has been charged with three D.C. election law misdemeanors and one federal charge of destroying records.

Although he could face up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge and a maximum penalty of six months in jail on each of the D.C. offenses, Gore is likely to serve far less prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., declined to say whether his client intended to plead guilty but said, “We’re answering questions. We’re participating in a cooperative fashion. That’s all we can do.”

Gore, who did not return calls for comment, has been a friend of Gray’s for two decades and served as the treasurer of his 2004 run for a seat on the D.C. Council and his successful 2006 campaign to become the body’s chairman. In the 2010 mayoral race, he played a less prominent role because Gray and others were concerned about the perception of a conflict of interest — Gore is the former president and executive director of a nonprofit group that has received city assistance in the past.

Although Gore did not hold the title of campaign treasurer — that job belonged to one of Gray’s neighbors — he acted in that capacity and kept a tight grip on its purse strings, campaign workers have said.

On Monday morning, Gore attended a meeting of advocates working on youth-employment issues but left the meeting early, said Lori Kaplan, executive director of the Latin American Youth Center and a longtime friend.

Gore, a native Washingtonian, has been active in a consortium of youth advocates and has worked on issues involving child welfare, juvenile justice and foster care, Kaplan said.

“He has years of history doing youth and family work in this town,” Kaplan said. “These are not glamorous jobs. He’s just been really committed to this work.”

Eugene Kinlow Sr., a longtime D.C. community activist, said the charges against Gore stung because his friend has been “a pillar of the community.”

“He’s just the greatest guy,” Kinlow said. “That’s his heart. The community. . . . I know he was trying to help the mayor, but like they say, no good deed goes unpunished.”

The charges drew muted reaction at the John A. Wilson Building, in part because federal authorities have subpoenaed a number of D.C. Council offices for records related to a broadening campaign-finance investigation. But council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) called the allegations “very disturbing,” and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the obstruction charge was “very serious.”

Cheh, who supported Gray’s campaign and teaches criminal law at the George Washington University law school, said the charges may signal that authorities are chasing “somebody more important” than Gore.

“Whether it’s other campaign officials, whether it goes up all the way to the mayor, I don’t know. But I do know that it’s a very significant event in the investigation,” she added.

Former federal prosecutors said it was too early to say where the investigation might be headed. But they noted that the charges are a significant milestone because they represent the first public indication that federal authorities are serious about the allegations that surfaced in March 2011 when Brown, the former candidate, told The Post that he accepted money orders and cash from the Gray campaign for attacks against Fenty. In exchange, he claimed to have been given a $110,000 job in the Gray administration. Gray countered that he never asked Brown to attack Fenty, although he acknowledged that Brown was promised a job interview.

Although court papers identified the person who received Gore’s money orders only as ”Candidate B,” sources familiar with the investigation said the recipient was Brown.

Last year, Brown alleged that the payments were made by Lorraine A. Green, the campaign’s chairwoman, and by Howard Brooks, a campaign staffer.

The contributions were made in the names of Brooks’s son, cousin-in-law and his son’s girlfriend. Both the son’s girlfriend and the cousin told The Post that they did not know Brown and did not make the contributions. Brooks’s son, Peyton, received immunity early in the investigation.

Thomas C. Green, an attorney for Lorraine Green, said, “My client has cooperated completely with the investigation, which I believe to be at an end so far as it involves her.” Glenn Ivey, an attorney for Brooks, declined to comment.

That investigation sparked by Brown’s disclosure has since broadened into an inquiry of campaign finance and ties linking a prominent D.C. contractor to local political leaders.

In March, federal agents raided the home and offices of that contractor, Jeffrey Thompson, on the same day they searched the home and office of a public relations executive involved in the Gray election effort. Former Gray campaign workers and volunteers have also been questioned by federal authorities about an off-the-books “shadow campaign” that focused on getting out the vote.

Staff writers Tim Craig, Mike DeBonis and Danielle Douglas contributed to this report. Douglas reported from Las Vegas.

Marion Barry hospitalized in Las Vegas, report says

Posted at 10:18 AM ET, 05/21/2012

Marion Barry hospitalized in Las Vegas, report says

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) suffered a blood clot while traveling to Las Vegas for an annual retail convention, according to tweets on his official account Sunday night.

”Got a blood clot while waiting on plane in Memphis,” said a tweet posted shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern time. “Taking blood thiner. I thank God it was caught.”

Neither Barry, 76, nor his chief of staff immediately returned calls or e-mails Monday morning. WRC-TV reported Monday morning that Barry was taken to Summerlin Hospital Medical Center; it is unclear whether he remains admitted.

A subsequent tweet referenced a recent Barry controversy, when in a council hearing last month, he lamented a high number of immigrant nurses, particularly from the Philippines. But the tweet singled out the “kind professional Filipino staff” who treated him Sunday.

“I stand corrected; I truly didn’t mean 2 hurt or offend,” it read.

Barry during his recent re-election campaign (Linda Davidson – The Washington Post)

Barry is among more than a dozen D.C. elected officials and staff who traveled to Las Vegas for the annual retail convention hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The officials, who this year include Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), will attempt to woo big-name retailers to development sites across the city.

It’s not the first time Barry has been hospitalized while traveling on official business. He was famously admitted to a Los Angeles hospital in 1987 while on a Super Bowl trip. It was one of Barry’s most high-profile health issues in a public career full of them. Most recently, he underwent urinary tract surgery in January.

The 2001 death of a 28-year-old British woman on a long international flight brought great attention to the heightened risk of blood clots during air travel. A 2007 World Health Organization study found that the risk of clotting roughly doubles after four hours of travel.

Kenyan McDuffie wins Ward 5 seat on D.C. Council in race to replace Thomas

Kenyan McDuffie wins Ward 5 seat on D.C. Council in race to replace Thomas

By Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis, Published: May 15

Democrat Kenyan McDuffie easily defeated 10 other candidates Tuesday in a race to replace disgraced former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., picking up support in all precincts by pledging to restore integrity to the office and unite a ward divided over gentrification.

With all 18 precincts counted in Ward 5, McDuffie trounced his closest competitor by a 2-to-1 ratio, garnering almost 45 percent of the vote in unofficial returns. He will be sworn in after results are certified on May 30.

After declaring victory shortly after 10 p.m., McDuffie said District residents can look forward to “a new, fresh, independent, honest broker on the council.”

“It’s a mandate — people want ethical, honest leadership,” said McDuffie, 36, a onetime letter carrier who became a Justice Department attorney. “They want someone who is going to represent everyone in the ward.”

The contest, viewed as a breakthrough for a new generation of young District political leadership, became a referendum on who could best lead a rapidly changing ward trying to balance its middle-class roots with an influx of new residents.

For all but eight of the past 25 years, the politically active ward had been represented by Thomas or his father, Harry Thomas Sr., a political patriarch who died in 1999.

The son, once viewed as a rising star in District politics, was forced to step down in January after admitting that he stole more than $350,000 from the city. Early this month, a federal judge sentenced Thomas to 38 months in prison.

The scandal weighed heavily on the minds of voters, who said they were eager to move past what they consider an embarrassing mark for the ward.

“I’m trying to make more of an effort to be involved and know what’s going on,” Marybeth Grannis, 38, a nurse, said after she cast her ballot for McDuffie at Dunbar High School, in Truxton Circle in Northwest Washington.

Nine Democrats, one Republican and one independent, all African Americans, appeared on Tuesday’s ballot, but the race largely came down to McDuffie, Delano Hunter and Frank Wilds. Hunter trailed McDuffie with 20 percent of the vote. Wilds was third with 15 percent.

Ward 5 includes much of Northeast, including middle-class neighborhoods such as Michigan Park, Lamond-Riggs, Brookland and Brentwood, and part of the increasingly pricey U Street corridor, including Eckington. The ward is predominantly African American, although its white population has doubled in recent years to 16 percent.

During his campaign, McDuffie quickly cobbled together a broad coalition of progressives, environmentalists, union leaders and gay rights activists, among others.

McDuffie racked up overwhelming margins in several Ward 5 neighborhoods that have undergone demographic changes, including Bloomingdale and Truxton Circle. But McDuffie also carried several more socially moderate precincts in the northern part of the ward that observers had predicted as Hunter or Wilds strongholds.

Though McDuffie most recently worked for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) as a public safety adviser after he left the Justice Department in 2010, both the mayor and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) stayed out of the contest.

Bryan Weaver, a progressive activist who is heading up a petition drive to ban corporate contributions to city political candidates, said McDuffie’s victory represents “a new era in District politics.”

“You have younger folks coming forward, and not from anyone’s political machine,” said Weaver, a former Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner. “It’s a fresh start.”

Despite receiving broad support from liberal and good-government activists, McDuffie has resisted embracing the label “progressive” amid an ongoing debate about what the term means in modern District politics.

“If people want to call me progressive, it’s up to them to do it,” said McDuffie, who will be up for reelection in 2014. “But I do like to think of myself as forward-thinking.”

In addition to McDuffie, Wilds, Magnus and Hunter, Democrats Shelly Gardner, Kathy Henderson, Drew Hubbard, Ruth E. Marshall and Rae Zapata competed in the contest. Tim Day, the accountant who first raised questions about Thomas’s theft in 2010, ran as a Republican. John C. Cheeks ran as an independent. Day finished fourth with 5 percent of the vote.

The race — which drew nearly 10,000 votes — largely centered around efforts by McDuffie and Hunter, 28, to break into District politics in the face of a strong campaign by Wilds, a 67-year-old businessman who has been involved in Ward 5 politics for decades.

McDuffie worked as letter carrier while attending the University of Maryland School of Law in the early 1990s. After graduating, he went to work in Prince George’s County, first as a law clerk and then as an assistant state’s attorney. From 2008 to 2010, he was a trial attorney for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, according to his résumé.

Despite his past service in government, McDuffie positioned himself as an outsider with the integrity to again make residents proud of their representative.

“I wanted someone young who I felt would be energetic, a family man,” said Joyce B. Dixon, 70, who voted for McDuffie in Michigan Park, in the northern part of the ward, after deciding he was “not shady.”

Hunter, a community organizer, began building a strong network of support in the ward through his self-described effort to emulate former mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s (D) passion for retail politics. He and McDuffie challenged Thomas unsuccessfully in 2010. In that campaign, Hunter struggled to clarify his opposition to same-sex marriage, which he has since dropped.

“I wanted someone who could clean up and get all the hoodlums off the streets and from in front of my house,” said Janie Brown, 68, who voted for Hunter at McKinley Technology High School in Eckington.

Hunter would have been the youngest person ever elected to the D.C. Council. Michael Clark, 26, said he voted for Hunter because he was “transparent and passionate” and “has energy.”

“There are a lot of new, younger voters in Ward 5, and we should have a representative who speaks to the things closest to us,” said Clark, a property manager who lives in Eckington.

Hunter was sidetracked during the campaign by reports that he has been sued three times since 2010 over unpaid rent and once over credit card debt.

Hunter said he got in financial trouble during his 2010 campaign but has learned from his mistake.

Still, the controversy unnerved some voters.

“I definitely don’t want Delano Hunter,” said Ilyssa Parker, who works for a nonprofit organization. “I question his integrity, and the gay-marriage thing, his finances. If you can’t do your own finances, how can you run the city’s finances?”

Wilds, the businessman and former advisory neighborhood commissioner, sought to counteract his opponents’ relative youthfulness by stressing his roots in the community and business experience.

“We go back years,” said Catherine Kelly, 81, adding that she used to cut Wilds’s hair. “I don’t know the other candidates.”

Some Wilds supporters also raised concerns that McDuffie was too connected to self-described progressive leaders from outside the ward, including Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who was the only council member to officially endorse a candidate.

Yet, even some seniors felt that it was time for a more youthful face on the council.

“I thought it was time to shift to a new generation,” said Rohulamin Quander, 68, a retired administrative law judge who walked to Burroughs Elementary School in Brookland to vote for McDuffie.

“He knows we’ll be watching,” added his wife, Carmen Torruella-Quander, 66.

Ward 5 candidates’ views on transportation, safety, development

Ward 5 candidates’ views on transportation, safety, development

By Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: May 12

When voters in Northeast Washington go to the polls Tuesday to elect a council member to replace disgraced Harry Thomas Jr., they won’t just be electing a new representative for Ward 5.

They will also be selecting the potential swing vote on the 13-member council, presenting voters with outsize influence in determining future policies that could shape the city for a generation.

With the D.C. Council increasingly fractured by personal rivalries and differences on policy, many council members and Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) will be looking to the new colleague as a potential tie-breaking vote. The winner will be sworn in within days of the election and casting votes, including on the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Although 11 candidates are in the race, political strategists and Ward 5 observers believe that Kenyan McDuffie, 36, Frank Wilds, 67, and Delano Hunter, 28, all of whom are Democrats and have competed in past Ward 5elections, are best positioned to pull off a victory. But with turnout expected to be light, former council staffer Drew Hubbard, 34, a Democrat, and Republican Tim Day, 40, could also potentially claim victory.

In recent days, The Washington Post posed a series of questions to all of the competitive candidates to gauge their views on some issues of concern to voters citywide.

Transportation

Q: Would you support doubling the city’s $35 residential parking permit fee to encourage more residents to take public transportation and free up more parking in residential areas?

A: McDuffie, Wilds, Hunter, Hubbard and Day all oppose the idea.

Q: Do you agree with the city’s plan to build a 37-mile, $1 billion streetcar network? If so, how would you pay for it?

A: Day wants the streetcar plan “scrapped” until a new, comprehensive transportation plan for the city is developed. McDuffie and Hubbard support streetcars but wouldn’t make it a priority until other programs, such as affordable housing, are better funded.

Wilds would support streetcars only if all the money comes from the federal government or through a regional partnership with Maryland and Virginia. Hunter said the streetcars are a “good investment” and require continued funding.

Q: Do you support continued taxpayer investment to expand the number of Capital Bikeshare stations?

A: Hunter said yes. McDuffie and Hubbard said only after other spending priorities, such as affordable housing, are met. Wilds said no because he worries that stations are “cluttering up sidewalks.”

Day said he would not support additional funding until a broader transportation vision for the District was in place. “Adding bike share stations to certain parts of Ward 5 is a moot point because they are mostly seniors and not going to ride them,” Day said.

Public safety

Q: Would you vote to give D.C. police officers, who have not had a new contract since 2007, a pay raise if it resulted in cuts to other public-safety programs?

A: Day said yes. Hunter, Hubbard and McDuffie said they think there may be money in the budget to give the raises without making other cuts to public safety. Wilds said he would give police officers a raise only if it is accompanied by raises for teachers and firefighters.

Q: Should Internet gambling be legalized in the District?

A: Hunter, Hubbard, McDuffie and Wilds said they are not opposed to the concept, but would first want broad vetting from the community. Day is opposed.

Q: Should criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana be reduced and made similar to those in surrounding states?

A: Wilds, Hunter and Hubbard said yes. Day said no. McDuffie responded that he first wants to hear the community’s views. “I don’t think the council needs to assume that they know best what people want in terms of marijuana, particularly people who live next to open-air drug markets,” McDuffie said.

Development

Q: Is new development good or bad for Ward 5?

A: All the candidates said it’s good for Ward 5, except Day, who worried that the area could become too much like Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. McDuffie also stressed that development should be “community-oriented, responsible and sustainable.”

Q: With renewed talk of raising the city’s 130-foot building height limit, is there any part of Ward 5 where taller buildings might be appropriate?

A: McDuffie, Day, Hunter and Hubbard all oppose taller buildings in Ward 5. Wilds would support taller buildings along New York Avenue NE as part of a refurbished “hotel zone.”

Q: If you could attract one business to the ward, what would it be, and where would you put it?

A: Wilds said a District government agency for Rhode Island Avenue NE. Hubbard said a Kinko’s or coffee shop at Rhode Island Avenue NE. Hunter said a large gym, perhaps at the Shops at Dakota Crossing development in Fort Lincoln. McDuffie said “something with job training,” but that he wasn’t sure. Day, an accountant, said an accounting firm.

Q: Are big-box stores good or bad for Ward 5?

A: All the candidates said they were good if they were well planned and included community benefits. “My concern is we just don’t have copies of what is in the suburbs,” Hunter said.

Social services

Q: Do you support spending city money to extend health insurance to undocumented immigrants?

A: Hubbard, Hunter, McDuffie and Day said yes. Wilds said no, adding, “we can’t supplement everybody.”

Q: Do you think welfare benefits should be cut off after five years, as is called for under the 1996 federal welfare reform law?

A: All candidates say they would support time limits, but they are not currently convinced that the appropriate job training and life-skills training is in place to help recipients make the transition. “We can’t say, ‘Here you go’ for five years, and then say, ‘Oh well, good-bye, we don’t care about you anymore,’ ” Day said.

Q: Should the District’s summer-jobs program for teenagers be means-tested to free up more space for youths from low-income families?

A: Hunter, Wilds, Hubbard and Day said no. McDuffie said yes.

Taxes

Q: Currently, residents who earn between $40,000 and $350,000 a year pay an 8.5 percent rate while residents who earn more than $350,000 pay an 8.95 percent rate. What do you think the highest tax rate should be and at what income level?

A: McDuffie, Day, Hubbard and Hunter would keep the current rates, though Hubbard eventually wants a “more progressive” structure. Wilds wants to cut the city’s 6 percent rate for residents who make less than $40,000 while raising taxes on those who make more than $300,000. “The rich should pay more,” he said.

Schools

Q: Should at least some charter schools in Ward 5 have a neighborhood admissions preference so that some residents near those schools can be assured seats?

A: McDuffie and Hunter said no, fearing it could undercut the flexibility those schools need to be successful. Day said yes. Hubbard said he believes “there should be some threshold” where charter schools could become neighborhood schools. Wilds appeared unfamiliar with the topic, saying he would do “what’s best for the community.”

Q: Should 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to test score growth, as is currently the case?

A: All the candidates said no, raising concerns that such an evaluation fails to adequately capture teachers’ true classroom performance. “Sometimes, test scores are just reflective of the school and the community the school is located in,” Hunter said.

Staff writers Mike DeBonis and Bill Turque contributed to this report.

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Mayor Vincent Gray’s dream of budget autonomy for the District remains mired in abortion politics. (Ricky Carioti – WASHINGTON POST) There’s a lot of optimism right now that the District could score a big Capitol Hill win, with support building for changes that would allow the District to spend its money without active congressional approval.

An earlier attempt at budget autonomy legislation was derailed when it got caught up in the abortion issue, with House Republicans adding language that would permanently ban the public funding of abortions for low-income women in the city. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and other city leaders rejected the compromise.

Now Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is saying he wants to move the abortion question separately, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has committed to introducing a Senate version of the bill. That led Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to give a half-hour floor speech Thursday heralding an impending new day in District self-governance.

But city leaders shouldn’t get their hopes too far up, because antiabortion forces are not going to be giving the city a pass.

A top official for the National Right to Life Committee, the best-organized antiabortion lobby on the Hill, said the group’s position is that abortion and the District budget are inextricably linked. Thus it opposes any budget autonomy bill that doesn’t include a ban on publicly funded abortions.

Douglas Johnson, the committee’s legislative director, said in an interview Thursday that his group is prepared to “score” any House floor vote on a budget autonomy bill that does not include strong abortion language — “at a minimum, a permanent prohibition on taxpayer-funded abortions in the federal district,” he said.

That means, unless Gray & Co. brook the compromise they previously rejected, they’ll have to get at least a couple dozen of the 235 current members currently boasting perfect antiabortion scores to sacrifice their perfection.

That is, to risk a profound understatement, rather unlikely.

And even if strong abortion language were added to the bill, Johnson said, “we would not say we support the bill, we would not oppose the bill.”

Long story short, unless local officials do a 180 on the abortion compromise, the dream of budget autonomy will have to wait for another Congress.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:20 PM ET, 04/20/2012

Missed rent payments add to Michael Brown’s financial woes

Posted at 05:09 PM ET, 04/19/2012

Missed rent payments add to Michael Brown’s financial woes

By Tim Craig, Washington Post

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown’s failure to pay his District taxes and mortgage on time in recent years was always likely to become an issue in his bid for reelection this year.

Now, fresh records show he also may have had trouble paying his rent on time.

As The Washington Post reported in January 2011, Brown and his wife failed to make timely property tax payments on their $1.4 million Chevy Chase home, eventually accruing a past due balance of $14,263. Brown quickly paid off the debt once the story was published, but it helped highlight the council member’s ongoing financial challenges.

Brown makes $125,000 a year as a council member and takes home another $240,000 annually as an attorney, according to Brown’s most recent financial disclosure form.

But banks or mortgage lenders issued five notices of foreclosure sale from when he bought the house in 1996 through late 2010, according to records. None of the notices proceeded to auction.

More recently, records indicate that Brown has missed rent payments on two apartments that have been under his name at the Rittenhouse Apartments on 16th Street NW over the past two years.

On March 17, 2011, Rittenhouse LLC filed a complaint in D.C. Superior Court alleging that Brown had “failed to pay” $4,031 in rent. At the time, according to court documents, Brown’s rent was $1,709 a month.

Brown was summoned to an April 13, 2011, court hearing, but he failed to show up, records show. The case was dismissed four months later.

In an interview, Brown said he “didn’t know anything about” the March filing. He noted the dates on the court documents “didn’t make any sense” because they stated the total rent due was for “February 2011 to March 2010.”

“That was a mistake,” Brown said. “I don’t know anything about that…I know nothing about that.”

But Rittenhouse LLC filed another complaint against Brown on Jan. 13, after he moved into another unit in the building. Rittenhouse alleged Brown missed one month’s rent, $2,160, according to court records.

The company withdrew the complaint in early February. Complaints are usually withdrawn after the defendant settles the debt or agrees to a repayment plan.

Brown acknowledged the existence of the January filing and said he has fully paid that month’s rent.

“I was two or three days late,” Brown said. “I was a couple days late, and the management company chose to take this action, which they have every right to do. Rather than notifying me I was a couple days late, they chose to file, which is fine, but I paid well before anything happened.”

Rittenhouse’s assistant property manager declined to comment. Mark R. Raddatz, the attorney who represented Rittenhouse Apartments LLC, also declined to comment.

In the November general election, Brown is seeking his second term as one of four at-large council members. He will be competing against Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large), Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, Independent David Grosso and State Hood Green Party candidate Ann C. Wilcox.

Voters can select up two candidates, and the top two vote-getters will win at-large seats. With registered Democrats accounting for three out of every four registered D.C. voters, Orange is heavily favored to win the most votes.

Brown is also favored to win reelection. But Beatty, a former Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, and Grosso, an attorney and activist from Ward 5, could mount a stiff challenge by hammering Brown over ethics and his status as an incumbent.

In April 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a $50,000 lien against Brown for failure to pay income taxes dating to 2004. According to a copy of the lien, Brown failed to pay $7,128 in 2004, $28,625 in 2005, $5,176 in 2007 and $11,951 in 2008.

Brown is on a repayment plan.

Jonetta Rose Barras: A November D.C. election with meaning

Jonetta Rose Barras: A November D.C. election with meaning

April 15, 2012 — 7:54 PM

Jonetta Rose

Barras, The Examiner

It used to be that the winners in D.C.’s Democratic Primary were immediately crowned as presumed office holders; the November General Election was perfunctory. But, could this be the year when that tradition dies?

When the D.C. Council moved the city’s primary they paved the road to a possible victory for a third party or independent candidate. Little known politicos now have more time to present themselves to voters and shake up things.

This year, competitive Ward 7, Ward 8 and at-large council races portend an exciting summer and an election no one should take for granted.

Consider, for example, that Democratic nominee and Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander received only 3,383 votes. The combined total of 4,559 votes cast for her opponents in that race far exceed those received by the incumbent. There is palpable dissatisfaction — which won’t be divided as it was in the primary.

Alexander will face newly minted Republican Ron Moten, who received a meager 61 votes. That small number doesn’t mean he can’t attract sufficient support to unseat Alexander. Moten is a force; he has made himself well known east of the Anacostia River.

If the folks in Ward 8 are smart, they’ll draft a candidate with political muscle and the ability to quickly build a finely tuned machine. As of February 29, there were nearly 54,000 registered voters in that area. But in the primary, Marion Barry won with 4,574 votes. There is an untapped reservoir of Democrats plus 7,834 independents who couldn’t vote in the primary. Could they be galvanized to change that community’s fortunes?

Councilman Vincent Orange can breathe easy — for a minute. The unofficial count indicates he received 23,719 votes to Sekou Biddle’s, 21,973. But that doesn’t mean the deal is sealed. In fact, as with Alexander, more people voted for Orange’s opponents than for him.

In November, voters will choose two candidates out of the five expected to be on the ballot. There is still time for even more to enter the race, however. The top two vote getters — one of which cannot be a Democrat — will claim the at-large council seats.

Orange’s win spells trouble for incumbent Michael Brown, who, four years ago, presented himself as an independent Democrat. Folks now know there is nothing independent about his politics — except when it comes to smoothing the way for gaming interests. Thankfully, his push for Internet gambling was defeated.

So-called progressives, who lined up behind Biddle and Peter Shapiro, aren’t going to walk away quietly. They are determined to change the dynamics in the legislature. They likely will target Brown, seeing him as the weaker of the incumbents. Expect them to throw their support to independent David Grosso — although Republican Mary Brooks Beatty shouldn’t be overlooked.

Only 64,361 people voted earlier this month. But in the General Election, nearly 80,000 independents unable to participate in the primaries will cast be able to ballots. At 17.34 percent of the total number of registered voters, they — not Republicans — are the second largest political block.

Stay tuned.

Jonetta Rose Barras’s column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jeffrey Thompson steps down from Chartered Health Plan

Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 04/16/2012

Jeffrey Thompson steps down from Chartered Health Plan

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Thompson’s withdrawal from his health care firm comes six weeks after federal raids of his home and offices. (C-SPAN) The District businessman at the center of a federal investigation into campaign finance has stepped down from the leadership of his health-care firm, according to a statement from the company.

Jeffrey E. Thompson, 56, resigned Friday from the board of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, which holds a lucrative city contract to manage health care for low-income District residents. That contract, worth as much as $322 million yearly, is the city’s largest and accounts for nearly all of Chartered’s business.

David D. Wolf, a former executive vice president of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, is replacing Thompson as chairman, the company said.

Thompson and his intersecting political and business interests have been under a microscope since March 2, when federal agents raided his home and offices. His name was later featured on subpoenas delivered to the campaigns of several D.C. Council members.

Thompson stepped down last month from the board of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, the accounting firm he established nearly three decades ago; partner Ralph Bazilio assumed Thompson’s former roles as chairman and chief executive. Thompson held no executive role at Chartered.

Thompson’s attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., has declined to comment on the investigation and other aspects of his client’s dealings.

Chartered has been under Thompson’s control since 2000, when he purchased the struggling firm at a bankruptcy sale. In the ensuing years, the company turned itself around and grew to become the city’s dominant health-care contractor. According to Chartered’s most recent regulatory filings, the company now handles the health care of more than 110,000 city residents.

Karen Dale, a spokesman for Chartered, said there have been no changes in the company’s ownership “at this time.”

Thompson notified the company’s board and management of his decision to step down Friday, Dale said, but gave no reason for doing so. The remaining board members voted over the weekend to install Wolf as chairman, she added.

“We’re delighted to have someone of Mr. Wolf’s caliber coming on board,” she said.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:48 PM ET, 04/16/2012

In final vote, Orange beats Biddle in at-large Democratic primary

In final vote, Orange beats Biddle in at-large Democratic primary

By Tim Craig, Saturday, April 14, 7:48 PM

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange was the winner of the April 3 at-large Democratic primary after a final vote count Friday added to his lead over challenger Sekou Biddle.

In a race that had been dominated by the ethics debate, Orange emerged with a narrow 543-vote lead 10 days ago over Biddle, a former council member who was trying to return to a job Orange snatched away from him in a special election last April.

But after the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics counted absentee and provisional ballots Friday, Orange surged to a 1,746-vote lead. Orange won the absentee and provisional ballots by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, and Biddle conceded the race Friday evening.

“It’s good we are going to put this behind us and move forward,” Orange said Friday. “It’s good to be the Democratic nominee and push forward the Democratic agenda.”

Orange’s victory means the five D.C. Council members up for election in the primary won their races, a signal that city voters were relatively unfazed by the ongoing federal investigations into city political campaigns.

In the final weeks of the campaign, candidates and elected officials were jolted by news that the FBI and the IRS raided the home and office of one of the city’s biggest political donors, contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Thompson and his companies have donated at least $100,000 in the past decade to Orange, a former Ward 5 council member and unsuccessful candidate for mayor and council chairman.

Orange admitted that Thompson had also raised $26,000 in “suspicious” money orders and cashier’s checks for his 2011 council campaign.

Biddle hammered Orange over ethics, but the 54-year-old council member denied any wrongdoing.

“I never had an ethics problem,” said Orange, who noted that he wants to ban second salaries for council members.

The at-large race also featured former Prince George’s County Council member Peter Shapiro and activist E. Gail Anderson Holness, and some Biddle supporters have accused them of splitting the opposition vote and handing the contest to Orange.

After the counting of absentee and provisional ballots, Orange received 40.4 percent of the vote to Biddle’s 37.4 percent. Shapiro finished with about 11 percent, and Holness took 7.4 percent.

Although Biddle congratulated Orange “on a hard-fought race,” he noted that the three challengers in the race had won a combined majority of the vote.

“What we saw was significant numbers voting for candidates other than the incumbent,” Biddle said. “People are saying pretty clearly with their votes that they want and need something they have not been getting.”

The results revealed a highly polarized electorate, mirroring the split between majority-white and majority-black neighborhoods that surfaced in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary.

In wealthy Ward 3 in Upper Northwest, Orange received just under 7 percent of the vote. But Orange dominated east of the Anacostia River, winning 63 percent of the vote in wards 7 and 8.

In addition to Orange’s victory, Democratic council members Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) and Marion Barry (Ward 8) also won their primaries. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) ran unopposed, as did Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and shadow representative candidate Nate Bennett-Fleming.

The city’s ceremonial shadow senator position was also up for grabs, and incumbent Michael D. Brown won that race.

Barry, Bowser and Evans are running unopposed in the November general election. Alexander will face Republican Ronald Moten, former head of Peace­oholics and an ally of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

Orange will appear on the November ballot with council member Michael A. Brown (I-At large,; Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, a former ward 6 ANC commissioner; Independent David Grosso, a lawyer and activist from Northeast; and lawyer Ann C. Wilcox, the D.C. Statehood Green Party nominee.

The two at-large candidates with the most votes will win, but one must be a non-Democrat.

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