- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2010

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.

The D.C. Council chairman has insisted that his friends won’t profit from a Gray administration, making cronyism a central theme of attack against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty - whom he accuses of funneling construction contracts to a company run by a fraternity brother, among other things.

But several members of Mr. Gray's “Kitchen Cabinet,” who could see their standing and influence rise in the District if Mr. Gray wins the Sept. 14 primary, have mixed track records involving poor government service and questionable business deals.

Among them is Vernon E. Hawkins, a fixture on the Gray campaign trail.

Mr. Hawkins, who serves as an unpaid volunteer, was paid $22,000 by Mr. Gray for consulting services, campaign materials and fundraising activities during his 2004 and 2006 political campaigns. He also served on the transition team after Mr. Gray was elected council chairman in 2006.

As with many of Mr. Gray’s closest friends and advisers, Mr. Hawkins’ city service dates back decades, including as director of the Department of Human Services in the Marion Barry administration. He was forced to resign in 1996 after the D.C. financial control board took an unprecedented vote to remove him from the city payroll, declaring an “emergency” characterized by “widespread waste and abuse in the handling of city contracts,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

The newspaper said Mr. Hawkins’ 17-month tenure was “the culmination of years of reports of shoddy services and questionable financial dealings at the agency,” for which Mr. Gray also served as director from 1991 to 1994.

More recently, Mr. Hawkins was a director of the Union Temple Community Development Corp., a private foundation affiliated with Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, according to foundation tax filings.

Mr. Hawkins and numerous other civic leaders attended a May 10 groundbreaking for Phase 1 of Sheridan Station, a $20 million Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved project to redevelop the 183-unit public housing project known as Sheridan Terrace, which the city tore down in 1997.

Sheridan Station, which also benefited from more than $5 million in federal stimulus funds and a $4.5 million loan from the District, will consist of 344 units of mixed-income housing, including 179 rental units and 165 single-family homes.

The project includes a 20 percent share for the Anacostia Riverfront Development Co., which consists partly of Mr. Hawkins’ church foundation in partnership with Jackson Investment Co., a family firm located in Southeast Washington.

The role of developer also has brought Mr. Hawkins closer to another key Gray ally: megadeveloper W. Christopher Smith Jr., the lead partner in the Sheridan Station project. In May, Mr. Smith joined Mr. Hawkins at the groundbreaking, where the two posed for photos while gripping a gold-plated shovel.

Asked at the groundbreaking about his foundation’s contribution to the project. Mr. Hawkins said: “As part of the Anacostia community, we felt it was necessary to be part of the development team. We represent this community and design programs to help those who live here.”

Bradley Fennell, a vice president of Mr. Smith’s firm, said Mr. Hawkins’ foundation’s contribution to the construction project was based on “community relations and meeting with residents.”

“Our goal in reaching out to them is to help build their capacity as an organization, to help them gain the tools necessary to improve their opportunities,” Mr. Fennell said.

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