- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Former D.C. Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham told Justice Department attorneys that she felt there were racial undertones to community opposition on Capitol Hill against a proposed group home for children, new court records show.

Miss Graham made her comments in a sworn deposition in connection with a civil rights lawsuit filed against the District by the Justice Department and the nonprofit Father Flanagan’s Girls and Boys Home, which is known as Boys Town.

The lawsuit states that the District broke federal housing laws by discriminating against Boys Town by preventing it from opening a group home proposed more than five years ago for disabled children on Potomac Avenue in Southeast.

Citing opposition from city officials, Boys Town ultimately sold the property at Pennsylvania and Potomac avenues to a developer for a profit of about $8 million, court records show.

According to portions of her deposition made public last week in federal court in the District, Miss Graham quoted civic activist Ellen Opper-Weiner as referring to children to be served by the proposed Boys Town project as “these kinds of kids.”

“Because I interpreted Ms. Opper-Weiner’s comments to be racially loaded, I was greatly offended, and responded that I remembered a time when people who looked like me would not be welcomed in certain neighborhoods, in her neighborhood,” Miss Graham, who is black, said in her deposition before Justice Department and Boys Town attorneys.

“She, in turn, explained to me that she had no racial intent associated with a comment, that, in fact, she had been a social worker, working on the lower east side of New York with special populations. And that was the extent of that conversation,” Miss Graham said.

Miss Opper-Weiner, who is white, disputed Miss Graham’s statement.

“Such a conversation never took place,” said Miss Opper-Weiner, a founding member of the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development, which opposed the Boys Town project. “That kind of charge is absolutely absurd.”

Miss Graham, who is running for president of the D.C. Board of Education, could not be reached for comment.

Formerly the District’s deputy mayor for children, youth, families and elders, Miss Graham said in her February deposition that she encouraged the Boys Town project because too many of the city’s foster children were living in Maryland and Virginia.

In response to questions concerning purported racial undertones to community opposition, Miss Graham testified that “it was just the whole tenor. Just everything associated with the opposition to the project.”

However, Miss Opper-Weiner said Miss Graham “was never involved directly” in the project and that there was no racial component to the community’s objections to the project.

“It was a zoning issue,” she said.

Excerpts of Miss Graham’s deposition were among hundreds of pages of legal filings submitted by the Justice Department and Boys Town last week in response to a recent motion by the District for a summary judgment.

In its motion, the District argued that Boys Town and the federal government failed to prove that the District violated the federal Fair Housing Act by delaying project applications by Boys Town.

Boys Town sued D.C. officials in 2001 in a case that was later consolidated with the Justice Department’s lawsuit, which separately sued the District two years ago.

In 2002, a federal judge dismissed Miss Opper-Weiner and Wilbert Hill, another community activist, as defendants in the case.

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