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Gray supporter leaves D.C. job

Mayor still faces queries about Whiting

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2011

An outspoken campaign supporter of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who landed a city government job despite Mr. Gray's knowledge of her failure to disclose a 2001 felony wire fraud conviction on her application, is leaving her position, city officials said Monday.

Cherita Whiting will depart from the Department of Parks and Recreation, where she served as a "special assistant" earning $65,000 a year, according to two city officials who spoke with The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity because it is a personnel matter.

Reached by cellphone Friday night, Ms. Whiting hung up on a reporter seeking to confirm her job status. She has not returned follow-up calls or text messages.

The separation comes after weeks of turmoil and multiple investigations into Mr. Gray's personnel practices. Both Sulaimon Brown and Talib Karim, two campaign backers who scored six-figure jobs in the Gray administration, departed less than two months into the mayor's term when questions about their pasts surfaced.

The upheaval also led recently to the dismissal of Mr. Gray's chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall. Last week, Rochelle Webb, director of the Department of Employment Services, left amid controversy over the hiring of her son and allegations of government waste.

At a hearing last week, Department of Human Resources interim Director Judy Banks testified that Ms. Whiting and others were hired at the direction of Ms. Hall with instructions to bypass a background check. The Washington Examiner reported Monday that Ms. Banks has left the Gray administration.

Despite such revelations and D.C. Council oversight committee hearings that have addressed the matter, questions remain about Ms. Whiting's hiring — and about why she has separated from the Gray administration, which stood by her hiring for weeks.

In February, The Times reported that despite holding previous positions as an advisory neighborhood commissioner and administrative assistant to D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson and applying for numerous other D.C. government jobs, Ms. Whiting never disclosed a felony conviction and federal prison sentence on her job applications. "Those who know, know, and those who didn't, I felt didn't need to," Ms. Whiting told The Times.

An email from one Gray supporter to another and interviews with two people who spoke with him in July, including Mr. Mendelson, showed that Mr. Gray was aware of Ms. Whiting's failure to disclose her felony record but still gave her a political appointment. In November, he paid her $2,000 as a campaign "consultant."

After reports of Ms. Whiting's criminal past surfaced, the Gray administration provided two council committees with a copy of a D.C. job application that contradicted her own account of the matter. But the administration has refused to provide the document or Ms. Whiting's previous job applications to The Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that asked for her personal information to be redacted.

Mr. Gray's office did not respond to numerous questions sent by email. John Stokes, the chief of staff of the Department of Parks and Recreation who supervised Ms. Whiting, did not return calls for comment. Erica McKinley, the general counsel to the Department of Human Resources, said she could not comment because it is a personnel matter.

Besides her own controversial stint with the D.C. government, Ms. Whiting is involved with at least two personnel actions involving officers with the Metropolitan Police Department. In one case, her complaint to Chief Cathy L. Lanier that an officer was dating a drug dealer led to that officer's termination and the demotion of a ranking police official for allegedly exposing Ms. Whiting as a witness.

In an appeal, the fired officer has asked that Chief Lanier recuse herself from the matter because of a "close" relationship with Ms. Whiting.

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