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Ex-D.C. mayoral candidate Brown testifies of alleged Gray deal

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2011

The D.C. politician whose allegations wreaked havoc on the Gray administration before it ever got rolling, strode into city hall on Monday to finally give his on-the-record account about purported campaign payoffs and other electoral irregularities.

Under court order, former 2010 mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown told a D.C. Council committee investigating potential nepotism and questionable hiring practices by Mayor Vincent C. Gray, that he first met Mr Gray and his campaign chairman at Howard University in late June 2010. That set off a stream of purported payments and the promise of a job to bash then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty during the campaign.

Mr. Brown's highly anticipated testimony before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment began with TV cameras following him into a hearing room at the John A. Wilson Building. Surrounded by a cult of personality since his explosive allegations began in February, Mr. Brown donned sunglasses for the event and refused to take them off.

His testimony was contentious at times, and he frequently interrupted committee Chairwoman Mary M. Cheh and committee member David Catania, whom Mr. Brown called "a witness" in the hearings.

Mr. Brown also testified that he met with Gray campaign Chairman Lorraine Green in the rotunda of Union Station after meeting Mr. Gray to lay out his request for a city job and payments to support his own campaign.

He said Ms. Green said something like: "Talking to me is like talking to Vince."

Mr. Brown said he received a $110,000-a-year job at the Department of Healthcare Finance in January. He was fired in late February over questions surrounding his past and behavior on the job.

He said such "disrespect" and "character assassination" prompted him to go public with his accusations about a quid pro quo agreement on the campaign trail.

Mrs. Cheh sought and was granted the court order forcing Mr. Brown to testify after more than a dozen witnesses described a "fast-track" pattern of hiring by the Gray administration.

Mr. Brown also insulted council members' qualifications.

"I have two jobs, and you have none," Mr. Catania responded at one point. "I'm clear now why you were fired ... , but what remains unclear to me is why you were hired in the first place."

Mr. Brown carried a manila folder with purported copies of money orders said to have been provided to him by campaign consultant Howard Brooks and signed by members of Brooks' family. He testified about the documents, but declined to provide them to the committee until he consulted with an attorney over Ms. Cheh's formal request for the documents.

Mr. Brown laid out a timeline of the purported payments and their location. Among them, he testified, was an Aug 4 meeting with Mr. Gray and Mr. Brooks outside the Eatonville restaurant to thank him for assistance in a debate. He said Mr. Brooks then gave him a payment.

Mr. Brown testified he recorded payments in his income-tax returns, prompting Mr. Catania to request a copy.
Mr. Gray, a Democrat, has said Mr. Brown was promised only a job interview, but was given no payments to his knowledge and made no quid pro quo agreements to attack Mr. Fenty.

But Mr. Brown claimed on Monday that his early criticism of Mr. Fenty won the Gray campaign over, notably his turn of phrase, "Go Brown, go Gray, go any color but Fenty."

"I just said it one time, but they wanted me to continue to say it," Mr. Brown said of the Gray team.

Mr. Gray's former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, has testified she offered Mr. Brown a job so he would not pester the mayor anymore.

Mr. Brown said he wanted a job in the Office of the Inspector General, but one posted on the Internet had been filled, and he complained to Ms. Hall.

He testified that Ms. Hall said it would be OK and that she would take care of it. After reporting to work at Healthcare Finance on Jan. 31, he said he received "kudos" for his performance — before he was dismissed.
"I think it was an illegal firing, period," he said.

Mr. Brown said no one knew about the purported agreement besides Mr. Gray, Ms. Green, Mr. Brooks and his friend, identified as "Bernice."

Mr. Brown's appearance was preceded by testimony from Cherita Whiting, who was hired for a job in the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and resigned amid reports about her criminal background.

She said she does not know why she was called before the committee.

"I feel like I deserved the position, not because of the job I did on the campaign," Ms. Whiting said, noting she was interviewed by the chiefs of staff for the mayor and the agency. "Let me state that again: I was interviewed."

According to testimony, Ms. Whiting checked "yes" on the part of her job application asking whether she had been convicted of a felony in the last 10 years. However, she had not checked it on her application to work for Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, about one year prior, citing the impending close of the 10-year grace period.

Mr. Catania said that would make more sense if it were the other way around. He also noted that the page marked "Yes, will explain" on this year's form was not signed, although a residency form in her employment packet had been.

Ms. Whiting said she contributed greatly to the city agency during her brief time there, but pressure to resign came down from Judy Banks, former personnel director for the Gray transition, after reports in The Washington Times about her background.

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