The Washington Times - March 18, 2011, 10:29AM

D.C. MAYOR VINCENT GRAY’s election campaign is now the focus of a congressional probe, according to a Washington Times story today.

The investigation will be led by a GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has oversight of D.C. affairs. Issa, a California Republican, said the investigation comes after members of his staff were rebuffed in their efforts to get basic information from Gray’s staff about allegations that cash payoffs were made during Gray’s mayoral campaign.

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The allegations focus on former mayoral contender Sulaimon Brown saying the Gray campaign gave him cash payments and offered him a $110,000-a-year city job to bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty during the campaign. Brown was fired from the job after questions surfaced about his past.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gary fired his chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, saying the controversy had become a “distraction.” Issa said Hall was among the Gray staffers his investigators attempted to interview.

CONGRESSWOMAN ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, a Democrat and the District’s non-voting House member, disagreed with Issa’s decision to investigate.

This is her full response: “As a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, I am outraged that a congressional committee with a full agenda would make a detour to investigate a purely local matter. There is no congressional issue at stake in a probe of local matters. Contrary to Chairman Darrel Issa’s (R-CA) assertion today that federal taxpayer dollars fund a large portion of the District’s budget, less than 2 percent of the District of Columbia’s $10 billion budget comes from special federal payments. The Congress has delegated full home-rule authority to the District to examine these allegations, and the District is using that authority to the fullest. Our local legislature and our local prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, promptly opened separate, independent investigations, which are ongoing. A congressional investigation would take the new House Republican majority’s obsession with invading the District’s home rule to a new low. I hope to meet with Chairman Issa to ask him to defer to the investigations now underway.”

D.C. HIRING CHERITA WHITING was a mistake says D.C. human resources director Judy Banks, according to the Washington Examiner. The Washington Times first reported that Whiting, a campaign supporter for Gray, hid a felony conviction. She was appointed by Gray to a special assistant position in January in the Parks and Recreation department despite his knowledge that she lied about having a criminal past.

A FEDERAL JUDGE sentenced D.C. resident Antwaun Ball on Thursday to more than 18 years in prison for his conviction of the 2001 hand-to-hand drug transaction, a much harsher ruling than a federal jury agreed upon about three years ago when members found him guilty of a $600, half-ounce drug deal. However, they acquitted him on racketeering and conspiracy charges that he led a violent drug gang in the Congress Park neighborhood in Southeast Washington.

The judge’s ruling in federal court in Washington shines a light on a little known practice called acquitted conduct sentencing that lets judges mete out tougher prison terms based on conduct jurors rejected, writes Washington Times investigative reporter Jim McElhatton today.

COCAINE WAS FOUND IN A D.C. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL on Thursday, say city officials. According to their release: “A student at Thomson Elementary School brought an undetermined amount of cocaine to school and shared it with others in his class.

Four of the students who received the cocaine ingested it, some orally and others inhaled it through the nose. It is unknown at this time how much each student ingested. The students’ teacher spoke with the student who distributed the cocaine and alerted the main office. The four students were evaluated by the school nurse and transported to the hospital as a precaution. A fifth student, who did not ingest the drug, was also transported as a precaution. All are reportedly OK.

School administrators notified the parents of the students involved and met a group of parents after school to address their concerns regarding the incident. A letter from school leadership also was sent home explaining what had happened.”

VA. GOP GOV. BOB MCDONNELL’S effort to have an bipartisan commission participate in drawing redistricting maps is emerging as one of the state’s most politically charged debates.

“There is indication that the politicians don’t plan to take the commission’s work all that seriously — and the commissioners aren’t thrilled about it,” reports The Washington Post. “Recent weeks have seen a report that the state’s 11 congressional representatives have largely already agreed on a plan that would shore up incumbent seats. And there’s been blunt talk from state Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) that he is working hard behind the scenes to draw up senate districts that will make it easier for Democrats to retain control of the chamber.”

The Virginia Statehouse News reports commission member Sean O’Brien, executive director of the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier, says about the 11 congressional members’ plan: “I am disappointed that they would put together a map that is so obviously about incumbency protection.”

MD. HOUSE SQUASHES GUN BILLS reports Capitol News Service. The news agency says a House panel this week killed some of the most controversial firearms proposals facing the General Assembly.

The House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly voted to squash a pair of identical bills that sought to cut in half the number of bullets a detachable magazine can carry. The panel also voted down a bill that would have given state police broad authority to regulate gun dealers. Of all the firearms bills being debated this session, the ammunition clip and gun-dealer proposals drew some of the strongest ire from Second Amendment groups.

Meanwhile, Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat and an ardent gun-control proponent, successfully shepherded the bill to narrow passage this week in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. It marked the first time in several years that Frosh has been able to advance a gun-control measure out of the committee he chairs.