- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A political opponent urged D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser on Tuesday to step down as chairwoman of a committee in charge of ethics reform, citing the Ward 4 Democrat’s ties to David W. Wilmot, a prominent lobbyist and land banker who represents Wal-Mart, which is building a store in Ward 4, and “who serves as the finance chairperson” of Ms. Bowser’s re-election campaign.

In a written statement, labor attorney and Ward 4 challenger Renee Bowser — no relation — accused Muriel Bowser of hypocrisy, saying she is “irreparably compromised by her close association” with Mr. Wilmot, who is described as “a well-connected power broker being paid to lobby the D.C. Council on behalf of Wal-Mart.”

The statement continued: “Ms. Bowser can’t have it both ways as the flawed doyenne of D.C. ethics reform.”

Muriel Bowser, chairwoman of the Committee on Government Operations, is trying to distill various ethics proposals into a comprehensive reform package. On Tuesday, she called her challenger’s statement “hogwash” and denied that Mr. Wilmot plays any formal role in her campaign — though she refused to answer questions about a Sept. 13 fundraiser Mr. Wilmot hosted for her at his house in Northwest, according to an email that began, “Greetings Bowser 2012 Finance Committee members!”

Since that event, Mr. Wilmot, clients and business partners in various development joint ventures have contributed at least $6,200 to Muriel Bowser’s re-election campaign, records show.

Dwight Kirk, a spokesman for Renee Bowser, said Muriel Bowser has a well-crafted image as a reform-minded politician, but the people of Ward 4 “might need to decide if they want to disturb that narrative.”

Mr. Kirk pointed to recent reports in The Washington Times that showed Mr. Wilmot to have a financial interest in city property being developed by his client Wal-Mart in Ward 6, after allowing the property to lay fallow for 20 years — during 18 of which he and his partners collected rent from the U.S. Government Printing Office for its use as a parking lot.

Mr. Wilmot’s parking lot interests also are being investigated by the Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs, an agency that Muriel Bowser helps oversee as a member of the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs.

“The perception right now in D.C. is that the ethics are very loose,” Mr. Kirk said. “And the person who is supposed to address that is being feted by a lobbyist who is double-dipping on a development on city property that seems to be a clear conflict of interest.

“Should that person be chairing the committee in charge of ethics reform? I’d say it taints the work of her committee.”

Among the Wal-Mart issues Ward 4 residents might be concerned about, Mr. Kirk said, are health benefits for part-time workers, fair treatment of employees in general and the integrity of community benefits agreements, which Wal-Mart has supported but refused to sign.

But with Mr. Wilmot in both Wal-Mart and Muriel Bowser’s corner, challenger Renee Bowser said Tuesday that Ward 4 residents might not feel adequately represented.

Mr. Wilmot might be serving the interests of Wal-Mart and Muriel Bowser very well,” the statement of Renee Bowser reads. “But don’t District residents and Ward 4 voters have a right to know from her — up front — the full scope of his association with her office?

“Transparency now is essential to assure the public that the reform process isn’t already rigged to shield insiders like Mr. Wilmot. But we have not gotten that from the chair of this important committee.”

Mr. Kirk added, “If this were Marion Barry, people would be all over it.”

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