- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2013

A D.C. Council member on Thursday accused the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray of influencing a questionable contract award to overhaul city-owned United Medical Center and of appearing ready to cave to the demands of the large-business community currently objecting to broader efforts to reform the city’s minority contracting policies.

After signaling his intent Wednesday to derail the $12.7 million “turnaround” contract, Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said he received a text message at about 11 p.m. Wednesday from Janene Jackson, director of the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, that said such intentions “changed the landscape” on an unrelated matter he’s in favor of that requires mayoral support.

Asked if the mayor’s office were leveraging its support of the unrelated initiative to deter him from blocking the contract award to Chicago-based Huron Healthcare, Mr. Orange replied, “I think that text message speaks for itself.”

Mr. Gray’s office did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, after going on record Wednesday as opposing the hospital contract, D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat whose constituents are served by the financially troubled facility — the only one east of the Anacostia River — suddenly called for an approval vote by Tuesday.

Ms. Alexander on Wednesday had called the contract “pricey” and said she was interested in “fairness across the board.” But on Thursday, she said that after speaking with the mayor’s policy and legislative affairs people and Bishop Charles Matthew Hudson Jr., chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, she “misunderstood” concerns about how the contract was awarded.

As The Washington Times previously reported, Huron submitted a proposal with a subcontractor that was not certified as a local minority firm, as is required by D.C. law, and that the Office of Contracts and Procurement then delayed the review process and ordered an unusual second round of “best and final” offers, during which time Huron dropped the noncertified local firm and added one that was certified.

Ms. Alexander said Thursday that her reversal was based on assertions by the Gray administration and Bishop Hudson that Huron had added a certified local minority firm as of the first “best and final” offer phase. She declined to provide any information to support that assertion.

Mr. Orange expressed disappointment at Ms. Alexander’s 180-degree change in position — literally overnight.

“She was all gung-ho and signed the resolution,” Mr. Orange said of Ms. Alexander’s withdrawal from a disapproval motion that is bolstered by claims of foul play from multiple competitors and filed Thursday with the support of council members Anita Bonds, at-large Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat whose constituents also are served by the hospital. “Now it looks like the [Gray] administration is putting on the full-court press.”

A pair of letters to the Gray administration from a broad coalition of business leaders, obtained by The Washington Times, underscore Mr. Orange’s belief that the hospital contract has become a flash point for a broader policy debate, and his assertion that Mr. Gray may be about to capitulate to a business community that consists in part of firms that are based outside the District.

On Jan. 9, business leaders from a handful of D.C. trade associations urged Mr. Gray to veto what is known as the “Small and Certified Business Enterprise Development and Assistance Amendment Act of 2012.” The bill calls for, among other things, an agency other than the city’s contracting office to review minority contracting certifications, a guarantee from outside firms to include an increased percentage of local contractor participation and authority vested in the mayor to debar firms that fail to comply with minority contracting laws.

“We urge you to exercise your veto authority to avert its passage,” the group wrote, insisting the bill would “make even more complex an already cumbersome, unwieldy regulatory regime that needs comprehensive reform.”

The letter goes on to urge a “clean-sheet review” of the District’s entire minority contracting scheme, while offering “collaborative participation” of the stakeholders represented by the various associations.

On Jan. 25, Deryl McKissack, of the architectural firm McKissack & McKissack, wrote to Mr. Gray and Mr. Orange with similar concerns and a proposal to spearhead a “Task Force of [minority business] owners and business leaders” to develop comprehensive new legislation.

Mr. Orange defended his legislation Thursday, saying it passed unanimously in the D.C. Council after the mayor called for reform during a news conference last year.

“People are expecting him to veto his own legislation,” Mr. Orange said.

• Jeffrey Anderson can be reached at jmanderson@washingtontimes.com.

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