- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has issued a stinging rebuke to members of the D.C. the council, saying that a decision to divert money away from his proposed public hospital to a series of community projects resembled a continuation of “pay to play” politics on the city.

In a letter to council Chairman Phil Mendelson ahead of an expected vote Wednesday on the city’s fiscal 2015 budget, Mr. Gray laid out his disappointment with some of the changes made to his $10.7 billion spending plan during the markup period. Mr. Gray specifically took aim at revisions made in the Committee on Health overseen by Council member Yvette M. Alexander — in particular a move to strip $22 million in funding for a new hospital at the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast and divvy the money up between a number of other projects.

One portion of the revised spending plan proposed by Ms. Alexander’s committee would give $1.2 million of the $22 million to the developer of the Nannie Helen Boroughs housing development, an affordable housing project that was already completed and opened in Ms. Alexander’s ward last year.

“Aside from the fact that the project was finished long ago — meaning that obviously no additional funding is necessary to complete it — the fact that the developer is a campaign contributor to many Council candidates only furthers the appearance of ‘pay to play’ politics in the District,” Mr. Gray wrote in the letter sent to Mr. Mendelson and dated Monday.

Campaign finance records show the developer of the project, Anthony Wash, has donated to Ms. Alexander and Mr. Gray, as well as a number of other city politicians.

Neither Mr. Wash nor Ms. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, could be reached for comment Tuesday, although Ms. Alexander said in her committee report that a “lack of clarity and consistency” on the part of city officials presenting the hospital plan led lawmakers to think twice about committing the money.

Mr. Gray objected to a number of the projects to which Ms. Alexander’s committee transferred the hospital funds, saying some amounted to illegal earmarks while others were for projects that were ineligible for or unworthy of public support.

Mr. Gray himself is the subject of a corruption investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that has sought to root out pay-to-play practices in the District, recently netting the guilty plea of a businessman who admitted to funding an off-the-books campaign for mayor in support of Mr. Gray in 2010. The mayor has not been charged with any crime but has been implicated by prosecutors in open court.

Mr. Gray’s spokesman said he was unaware of any personal conversations that might have taken place between the mayor and Ms. Alexander over the redirected funds, but that the mayor’s staff has expressed his disappointment with the decision to Ms. Alexander and the council.

“We hope they reconsider their shortsighted approach,” Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said.

The mayor advocated for building a new hospital this year to replace the struggling United Medical Center. Building a new hospital, at the total cost of $335 million, is essential to getting a new private operator to commit to running the venture since no current operators have an interest in taking over the old facility, Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray’s $10.7 billion proposed budget included $116 million in increased education funding and a commitment of $100 million for programs to increase affordable housing. Local funding, from sources such as income and property tax, accounted for $6.8 billion of the budget.

In his letter to Mr. Mendelson, Mr. Gray also objected to a number of other council committee revisions, including money diverted from a jobs training program to a film incentive fund, a $30 million cut to the city’s streetcar program, and an $18 million cut that would prevent a government agency from vacating the city-owned Franklin D. Reeves Center, which is part of a land swap deal by which officials hope to build a soccer stadium.

The mayor’s budget has been tweaked by council members in the course of the markup process, and additional changes are all but certain during a session Wednesday at which members are expected to vote on the plan.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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