- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2012

He was the District’s top-earning lobbyist in 2010, with clients such as Wal-Mart, Anheuser-Busch and the Hotel Association of Washington. Paid up to $300,000 a year by a nonprofit that operates group homes for the developmentally disabled, his for-profit parking company co-owns “dozens of large-scale development projects” in the District.

And he lives in a $1.3 million house on a hill in a leafy part of Northwest, where he parks his Bentley, Range Rover and Mercedes.

But to hear renowned lobbyist and power broker David W. Wilmot tell it, he’s staring at a glass ceiling when competing in the free enterprise system he so thoroughly embraces.

“My personal net worth does not exceed $750,000. I am economically disadvantaged because my ability to compete has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities as compared to others,” Mr. Wilmot has declared for years “under penalty of perjury.” He received Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification to win multimillion-dollar parking contracts with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Now a pair of reform bills before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Small and Local Business Development and the questionable certification of one of his proteges, a local vendor on the D.C. Lottery contract, have elevated the issue of how the District manages minority contracts, a pursuit perfected by the man some call “King David.”

“A good many people take advantage of the system,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and the author of one bill that would require 50 percent D.C. resident hiring in order to get contract procurement preference points and would tighten inspections of companies claiming disadvantaged status.

“The system has been used to privilege the old guard to receive contracts to the exclusion of others who could use a leg up,” he said. “We need to establish time limits and income limits. It isn’t intended to be perpetual training wheels.”

The D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development oversees efforts “to extend the city’s economic prosperity to local business owners, their employees and the communities they serve.” But not all council members — or even businessmen — agree on how to do that.

“It doesn’t matter how successful you are,” countered council member Michael A. Brown, an at-large independent who led the recent failed effort to bring online poker to D.C. through the lottery, and who had a fundraiser hosted for him at Mr. Wilmot’s house this year. “You’ve got to look at the legal definition.”

Historically disadvantaged

Ward 8 Democrat Marion Barry, a longtime friend and client of Mr. Wilmot, says procurement preferences belong to any businessman associated with a group that has “historically been discriminated against.”

Mr. Barry says Mr. Wilmot fits into the class of historically disadvantaged businessmen because he is black. “It’s not based on income,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s easier to get a car loan than a business loan right now. Plus, the banks are run by white men, and it’s a well-known fact that we don’t have access to capital.”

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown would not comment directly on Mr. Wilmot’s status as a disadvantaged businessman. “It’s a national debate,” he said, “and the standards are always changing. Mr. Wilmot has been around for a long time. He brings a certain level of sophistication and expertise. But I don’t know what his net worth is.”

When pressed, Mr. Brown offered: “You can’t say you are disadvantaged and not be.”

Florida-based businessman R. Donahue Peebles, a wealthy developer with a multibillion-dollar portfolio of luxury hotels and high-rise properties in the District, Las Vegas and Miami Beach who recently criticized the District’s “entrenched political community,” said he considers Mr. Wilmot a friend. But, Mr. Peebles said, “I do not consider him disadvantaged. Nor do I consider myself disadvantaged.”

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