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Council member balks at funds criticism

‘I will keep doing real work of Ward 7,’ she tells constituents in recent letter

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ward 7 Council Member Yvette Alexander responded to the news on Thursday that the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) is investigating her use of constituent service funds with a letter to - her constituents.

Promising full cooperation with the probe and denying she personally benefited from her constituent service fund, Ms. Alexander defended her penchant for catered events, advertising and fundraisers, which comprise the bulk of the expenditures she reported to the OCF, and pledged to "keep buying tables" at upcoming community events.

"I will keep doing the real work of Ward 7," she wrote in a letter to "The Residents of Ward 7," a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

The OCF investigation, which was confirmed Thursday by spokesman Wesley Williams, was prompted by a citizen complaint filed by Ward 7 resident Geraldine Washington on behalf of a group of eight residents of Ms. Alexander's ward. The complaint came in the wake of reports by The Times that Ms. Alexander spent less than 5 percent of her constituent service funds on urgent needs such as medical care, funeral costs and rental assistance for some of the District's poorest residents.

In her letter, Ms. Alexander took direct aim at The Times' use of the words "poor" and "needy" to describe her constituents. "Neither I nor Ward 7 residents refer to themselves as 'needy and poor,' and I do not appreciate it when any reporter regularly demeans Ward 7 residents," she wrote.

She also objected to a reference in the story about an audit she has sought of a nonprofit group that has received millions of dollars in city funds. "We are all entitled to know how this money was spent," Ms. Alexander wrote.

Ms. Alexander has refused to release documents to explain her use of constituent service funds, despite a Freedom of Information Request from The Times and requests for information by her own constituents.

In addition, Ms. Alexander defended legislation she introduced that would have benefited the former landlord of an office she rented with constituent service funds. She referred to the request for an investigation of whether such legislation was introduced in exchange for reduced rent as "baseless and false."

Ms. Alexander's letter drew a swift response from one of the OCF complainants, Jackie Pinckney-Hackett: "Let me remind you that you represent some of most needy and poorest residents in the city, many of who are unemployed with children," Ms. Pinckney-Hackett wrote. "I find it difficult to fathom that you would rather continue to buy ads in programs and tables at dinner events than to help provide food, rental, utility or other assistance to your residents."

In a separate response Ms. Pinckney-Hackett referenced a Bloomberg News report from March that showed Ward 7 as having the second-highest jobless rate in the country for cities with comparable labor forces, at 17.1 percent. The highest jobless rate using that same criteria, the report stated - 25.2 percent - is in Ward 8, which shares a border with Ms. Alexander's ward.

Ms. Alexander did not return a call from The Times requesting comment.

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