D.C.’s Bid for Increased Autonomy Unhurt by Election Cases.
||Washington Times (DC)
||Wednesday, May 23, 2012
A formal admission that members of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign team paid a minor candidate to bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty — whether Mr. Gray knew it or not — has not upset the city’s fragile relationship with Capitol Hill at this stage, an official said Wednesday.
Mr. Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown have nurtured their relationship with Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, who are vested with the constitutional authority to oversee activities in the federal enclave.
Mr. Gray’s assistant campaign treasurer, Thomas W. Gore, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to processing payments to 2010 mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown and destroying a notebook with a ledger of the payments.
Charges were filed Wednesday against campaign operative Howard Brooks, who is accused of making false statements to authorities about his role in delivering the illegal campaign contributions to Mr. Brown.
The developments come while Mr. Gray pushes for a longer leash from federal lawmakers through budget autonomy, or the ability to set the city’s fiscal year and spend its local funds without prior approval from Congress. Mr. Gray also reportedly is speaking to Mr. Issa about relaxing long-standing height restrictions on buildings in certain parts of the District.
“That work has been taking place over the last seven [to] eight months, so it doesn’t fundamentally change the facts,” said Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Mr. Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Mr. Gray is not linked directly to any payments in the court documents related to Gore’s plea, and a House investigation spearheaded by Mr. Issa in the fall fell short of pointing fingers at the mayor for suspicious deals on the 2010 campaign trail and nepotism during the administration’s hiring process.
The plea documents, Mr. Hill said, “really confirm in a little more detail what the committee had found in October.”
Mr. Gowdy, chairman of a House subcommittee with oversight of D.C. affairs, was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, an organization that promotes full voting rights for the District, said he does not see a correlation between potential corruption in the city government and the right to more autonomy from the federal government.
“What we’re talking about is the right of local residents to deal with local issues, whether it’s malfeasance or anything else,” Mr. Zherka said as he participated in a mock D.C. Constituents Service Day on Wednesday outside the office of Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, who introduced an anti-abortion bill that only targets the District.
According to advocates, clean government should not be construed as a prerequisite for home rule.
“These problems exist everywhere in America,” Mr. Zherka said.
Mr. Issa’s investigative report in October was an overall boon for Mr. Gray, finding his transition team did not promise anything more than a job interview to Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown obtained a $110,000-per-year job in the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance but was fired within weeks, prompting him to go public with his accusations in The Washington Post.
The House committee report marked the second time an investigative body failed to find evidence Mr. Gray directly paid Mr. Brown or promised him a job; a D.C. Council committee conducted a similar investigation,
Mr. Issa’s report found Mr. Brown had “limited credibility,” although Gore’s formal admission to five furtive payments totaling $660 directly supports at least some of Mr. Brown’s claims.
The congressman had crafted legislation that would put the District’s hiring practices in line with the federal government‘s. But Mr. Brown, the council chairman, assured him that local reforms were under way, prompting Mr. Issa to withdraw the bill and enhance the air of cooperation between the federal and local governments.