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IN OTHER WORDS: Revisiting ‘cronyism’ in D.C.

- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2012

Forget Sulaimon Brown a minute.

For us, the questions started with a fence — a 6-foot, black, aluminum fence built around D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray's Hillcrest home.

The Washington Times reported in November 2009 that Mr. Gray had the fence built in violation of city height restrictions and used a contractor not licensed to do business in the city.

That report followed an earlier story in The Times that said the then-council chairman's longtime friend, who happened to be a megadeveloper with projects pending before the D.C. Council, oversaw some minor repairs at Mr. Gray's house - work outside the contractor's ordinary scope of business that employed subcontractors also not licensed to do business in the city.

And there were the payments.

Mr. Gray produced checks showing he paid market value for the repairs — checks that were dated after The Times began its inquiries.

No criminal wrongdoing was found — or alleged, for that matter. As a result of the reports, Mr. Gray was forced to take down the fence. After he was elected mayor, the police department recommended it be restored (at taxpayer expense) for security reasons.

But an indignant Mr. Gray at the time dismissed the stories as "unfair" and suggested he was the target of an agenda-driven smear campaign prompted by his political enemies.

We just thought the issues raised important questions about judgment from someone who really should have known better.

The reporter who wrote the stories, Jeffrey Anderson, went on in September 2010 to look at Mr. Gray's "kitchen Cabinet," after noting that the surging candidate had made cronyism a central theme in his attack against incumbent Adrian M. Fenty. Mr. Anderson focused on several longtime associates with mixed records of performance that could — and, as it turns out, did — figure prominently in a Gray administration.

"D.C. mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray prides himself on loyalty and longevity in his relationships, relying for advice on a small cadre of confidants and friends who are also established figures in D.C. politics," Mr. Anderson wrote.

Among those profiled in the story, headlined "For Gray, cronyism issue cuts 2 ways," were Vernon Hawkins, David W. Wilmot and Lorraine Greene.

They sound familiar?

Mr. Hawkins, "a fixture on the Gray campaign trail," as Mr. Anderson described him, was back in the news last week. A report in The Washington Post suggested he orchestrated a parallel, off-the-books "shadow campaign" to get out the vote on behalf of Mr. Gray in 2010.

Mr. Wilmot was described as a mainstay "in local business and politics for the past 30 years." Mr. Wilmot lobbied for Wal-Mart, which Mr. Gray announced in November would build six stores in the District. The Times reported in October that one of the stores is planned for a plot of land that Mr. Wilmot has a financial stake in.

Mr. Wilmot last year represented council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, in a campaign-finance investigation into Ms. Alexander's constituent services spending. Ms. Alexander will see two of the proposed Wal-Mart stores built in her ward and received sizable donations from Wal-Mart-related interests.

"A key confidant and Mr. Gray's closest friend is his campaign manager, Lorraine A. Green, who served as chairman of his transition team in 2006," the 2009 story in The Times said.

Ms. Green, of course, has since been implicated by a D.C. Council committee that said in an August report that members of the Gray administration engaged in cronyism, paid salaries above legal caps and illegally hired the children of senior officials.

That report was prompted by the now well-known story of Mr. Brown, the minor mayoral candidate who said he was paid and promised a job by the Gray campaign team to attack Mr. Fenty on the campaign trail.

In fact, that investigation spawned the wider probe involving donations from prolific political contributor Jeffrey E. Thompson, his companies and his associates. WRC-TV (Channel 4) has cited "sources" who say that Mr. Gray personally handled as much as $100,000 in checks from the Thompson network.

Now some other people — and by other people, we mean federal prosecutors — appear to be working to determine for themselves how much Mr. Gray knew about any questionable campaign activities that may have been coordinated by his closest advisers.

To be clear, no one has been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with the federal probe, campaign finance or the "shadow campaign."

But those questions about judgment just don't seem to go away.

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