Developer considers financing Gray recall vote

Hopes for removal of D.C. mayor, other officials

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Millionaire developer R. Donahue Peebles, the man who considered a run for mayor in 2010, says he wants to see and might be willing to finance the recall of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, along with other elected officials.

The D.C. native, raised by a single mother and now the owner and CEO of the Peebles Corp., the largest black-owned real estate development company in the country, with a multibillion-dollar portfolio of luxury hotels and high-rise residential and commercial properties in the District, Las Vegas and Miami Beach, also says he now regrets not running for mayor.

Disgusted with the District’s political scandals and with what he calls “mediocre and self-serving leadership” among the city’s “entrenched” political community, Mr. Peebles told The Washington Times on Saturday that he thinks a couple of hundred-thousand dollars to back a recall effort against Mr. Gray and Mr. Brown would put them in “deep trouble.”

“I believe a well-funded recall effort would be successful,” he said during an interview in which one of the 10 wealthiest black Americans lashed out against a cadre of politicians who he says have lost their way. “We need a political revolution.

“We’ve had black leadership in this city for years, yet we have one of the highest poverty rates in the country east of the Anacostia River, in one of the wealthiest regions in the country,” he said. “It’s clear that African-American leadership is not changing that. Vince Gray being black is not helping anything. President Obama said government should help those who cannot help themselves.

“Our District government specializes in helping those who don’t need it and leaving others behind,” he said. “It hasn’t worked, isn’t working and it can’t work. The District is becoming a global laughingstock, and the voters deserve to get a second look.”

Mr. Peebles did not commit to throwing his substantial wealth or fundraising prowess behind a recall effort, which is being led by Frederick Butler, a disgruntled supporter of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. And he did not limit his criticism to D.C.’s black politicians, saying there aren’t more than a couple members on the council who have been “immune from ethical missteps.”

But Mr. Peebles, a fierce critic of Mr. Fenty, cautioned that his campaign efforts in Ward 8 in the 2010 election led to a 40 percent increase in voter turnout in a ward that voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Gray.

“What do you think those residents are going to do if they get a second look at Gray - if a recall campaign is well-funded?” he said, warning that he would not languish on the sidelines indefinitely.

Prayed for success

Asked whether he would consider running for mayor in a special election if a recall effort against Mr. Gray is successful, Mr. Peebles also declined to commit, but said: “I’ve prayed for Vince’s success, and I’ve longed to see him and Kwame Brown serve the public. But I believe their arrogance is going to do them in. They are not taking the potential for a recall seriously.

“I pray and hope that someone with the ability and independence would surface to lead the city. I don’t see how they can govern with all these investigations going on.”

Neither Mr. Gray nor Mr. Brown would comment Monday. But in statements that each filed with the Board of Elections and Ethics in response to the respective recall efforts, each expressed an ongoing commitment to education, job creation and fiscal responsibility.

In his statement, Mr. Gray also said “it would be ill-advised to vote for a recall election given the cost entailed in holding a city-wide special election and the progress the Gray administration is making in a number of areas critical to the future of our city.”

Yet even as former council member Harry Thomas Jr. awaits sentencing after resigning his Ward 5 seat and pleading guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in government funds intended for youth sports programs and filing false tax returns for three years, federal investigations targeting Mr. Gray and Mr. Brown are still under way.

“How can Vince serve the taxpayer with all these investigations going on?” Mr. Peebles asked.

“How can we have a local government with allegations of converting cash to money orders in order to get campaign contributions?” he said, referring to just one aspect of the Gray investigation.

“He still needs to be exonerated, and if it goes the other way then it’s all over for him.”

Mr. Peebles’ name surfaced as a mayoral candidate in 2009 after The Times reported that the Web domain names PeeblesForMayor.com and PeeblesForDC.com, along with similar addresses, were registered to an unnamed owner.

A frequent keynote speaker on the topic of empowerment for black Americans and an occasional guest at White House job forums, Mr. Peebles, who has lived and worked out of Coral Gables, Fla., but maintains a residence in the District, is heralded as a business leader and a local success story.

For family reasons

Mr. Peebles said he suspended his potential bid for mayor for family reasons. He also said he was convinced that Mr. Gray was up to the task of unseating Mr. Fenty and leading the city.

“Gray is hampered from governing,” Mr. Peebles said.

Mr. Peebles counts Thomas and council members Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, and Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat and a fellow Wilson High School alumnus, among his childhood friends.

In 1979, he dropped out of Rutgers University after his freshman year to pursue real estate opportunities in the District. In 1984, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry appointed Mr. Peebles as chairman to Washington’s Board of Equalization and Review, a real estate tax appeals board now known as the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals.

His early property investments enabled him to launch the Peebles Corp., which he still owns and manages, with a $4 billion portfolio of luxury hotels and residential and commercial properties. He is estimated to have a personal net worth of at least $350 million.

But he insists his wealth is a result of being goal-oriented, and he contrasted his success with what he sees among the District’s elected officials.

“It’s all about money for them, whether it be the accoutrements of a lifestyle they otherwise couldn’t afford, or to fund campaigns to keep them running for office,” he said. “Then, a victory at the election box becomes a victory for the politically connected.”

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