Council member Graham had heavy hand in D.C. development deal
D.C. developer Warren C. Williams Jr. was on his way to a project meeting in 2007 at Metro's headquarters when he got a call telling him that D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a Metro board member and chairman of the council’s real estate committee, was displeased.
“What are you doing? This project isn’t for you,” said the caller, Buwa Binitie, then with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Referring to a competitively bid, mixed-use residential project to redevelop land owned by the transit authority near the Shaw-Howard University Metro station, he was paraphrasing what Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat who represents the Shaw area, had just told him.
Inside the lobby of Metro headquarters, according to multiple sources present that day, Mr. Williams recounted the call to the rest of the development team, headed by Banneker Ventures, a firm known at the time for its close ties to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
According to the Banneker team and its attorney at the time, former prosecutor A. Scott Bolden, Mr. Graham “misused his official position as a member of the [Metro] board and a D.C. Council member to improperly influence [Metro’s] selection of Banneker.” In the process, Banneker accused Mr. Graham, of offering “a quid pro quo” for his support if a specific developer of his choosing was chosen.
Mr. Bolden’s analysis of Mr. Graham’s actions are detailed in an 11-page, heavily annotated letter sent in April 2010 to Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Times.
The nexus: After Mr. Williams was awarded the lottery contract, Mr. Graham said he would not approve the contract unless Mr. Williams bailed on the Metro project, according to emails among Mr. Williams, his political consultants and Mr. Bolden, in reaction to what they thought was an inappropriate offer by Mr. Graham.
The Bolden letter, though it does not include accusations regarding the lottery matter, speaks to aspects of the Metro deal that shed troubling light on the extent to which Mr. Graham wields power.
At the time of the project meeting, Banneker had secured financing from high-profile real estate investor Victor MacFarlane and was on the short list of firms vying for the Shaw-Howard Metro deal. When the firm emerged as the winning bidder in early 2008, it began negotiating terms with Metro as a precursor to signing a joint development agreement and lease by October 2008.
But before the Metro board could act on recommendations from its staff to approve the terms, Mr. Karim received a call in April 2008 from Metro real estate specialist Rosalyn Doggett, who said Mr. Graham had concerns about Mr. Williams‘ participation on the Banneker team.
After Mr. Karim addressed Mr. Graham’s concerns, Mr. Graham requested that the Metro real estate committee meet in closed session to discuss Banneker’s selection as lead developer, the letter says. He then moved to delay approval of the project for up to 60 days.
In June 2008, Metro staff again requested an approval vote and Mr. Graham again sought a private discussion with the real estate committee, after which the committee voted over Mr. Graham’s objection to approve Banneker’s selection as lead developer and the terms negotiated by Metro staff, the letter states.
When the project moved to the Metro board for approval, the letter states, Mr. Graham told Mr. Karim that he would vote to approve the deal but not before he met privately with Mr. Karim. The meeting began in Mr. Graham’s office, and continued through lunch at the now-defunct Ten Phen restaurant. The letter states that Mr. Graham wanted Banneker to add local real estate firm LaKritz Adler — a firm with other projects in Ward 1 that has donated at least $6,000 to Mr. Graham’s campaigns — to the Metro development team or purchase adjacent land controlled by the firm.
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