- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ward 4 activist Cherita Whiting, an early and strident supporter of Vincent C. Gray during his successful mayoral campaign, was chosen by Mr. Gray’s transition team out of 67 applicants for a newly created “special assistant” position with the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), reporting solely to the chief of staff.

Ms. Whiting’s name would have jumped off the page for any Gray insider reviewing the applications: A persistent critic of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Ms. Whiting campaigned vigorously and even penned an endorsement in The Washington Post for Mr. Gray.

But questions about Ms. Whiting’s criminal record and her relationship with Mr. Gray and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier emerged in a recent police internal affairs action sparked by a complaint by Ms. Whiting. The hiring of the politically connected activist to the $65,000-a-year position — which requires her to interface regularly with Chief Lanier’s command staff — raises questions about Mr. Gray’s stated commitment to stamp out cronyism in city government.

It also is unclear whether Ms. Whiting truthfully disclosed on her job application a felony conviction within the past 10 years. In fact, her own admission to The Washington Times last week that she did not disclose a 2001 conviction for wire fraud is contradicted by statements from the Gray administration that she did.

Multiple D.C. officials offered conflicting accounts of what they did or did not know about her. The mayor’s office declined to disclose a copy of her job application.

** FILE ** D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier (Associated Press)
** FILE ** D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Metropolitan Police Chief ... more >

Last week, Ms. Whiting said she applied for the special assistant position in response to a publicly posted listing and received no special favors in securing the job. However, Mr. Gray’s office and DPR Chief of Staff John Stokes said the position was not publicly posted, but rather was created as an “excepted service” appointment. Such appointments allow the government to use a noncompetitive process to streamline hiring. The interview process to fill more than 200 “excepted service” appointments is continuing, a Gray representative said.

Ms. Whiting also said she is qualified for the job — a communications liaison among police, school and parks officials — by virtue of her years of neighborhood activism. She has served as president, chairman or member of myriad boards and commissions, including the Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the Ward 4 Education Council, D.C. Parent Teachers Association (PTA), the D.C. Public Schools Education Compact Committee and the Commission for Women in the District of Columbia.

Of her criminal record, she told The Times last week, “Those who know, know, and those who didn’t, I felt didn’t need to.”

Ms. Whiting, a D.C. native, has a background in payroll, billing management and human resources, according to her resume. She testified recently that she attended the Academy of Notre Dame but did not finish the 11th grade. Her participation on numerous boards and commissions prompted the D.C. Council to recognize her in November 2005 for “outstanding civic involvement.”

By her own estimation, Ms. Whiting has friends in high places. During a recent internal affairs hearing for a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer accused by Ms. Whiting of outing her as a complainant, when questioned by the officer’s attorney, Ms. Whiting denied having a special relationship with Chief Lanier, a Facebook friend. In police interviews and conversations with neighbors, she referred to Chief Lanier as “Cat.”

During that hearing, she also said, “Vincent Gray is my friend too. And he has socialized with me.”

Knack for politics

During the Fenty administration’s efforts to reform D.C. Public Schools, Ms. Whiting showed a knack for politics and activism. In 2007, as Mr. Fenty was planning to take over the schools, she led a protest demonstration in front of his house, according to news reports. That same year, she delivered what news reports called a “sermon” against the school takeover at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Anacostia.

Her withering criticism of Mr. Fenty and his schools plan appeared frequently in news articles, blogs and online comment sections, and earned her a reputation as a formidable foe.

When Mr. Gray announced his mayoral campaign, Ms. Whiting became one of his strongest supporters. In her endorsement of Mr. Gray in The Post in August, she wrote: “Gray is a man of the people. He will listen to us, take care of and include all of us.”

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