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Readers burned up our phone lines last week after we published a Loose Lips column about insidious developer influence. At issue was our decision to include reporting about a personal relationship between the former business development director of development company Dantes Partners and the District government employee who oversaw a project she managed.
Callers, overwhelmingly women, were outraged by the mention, many of them seeing it as implying that a woman was dating a man in a certain position “to get ahead.” In fact, in a city where developers are granted far too much leverage in matters ranging from zoning to membership on government boards and access to public officials, our judgment to include the information was simply meant to convey that there are sometimes even more subtle ways the industry wields clout. We did not suggest the relationship was somehow illicit.
Nevertheless, some readers were scandalized, characterizing the reference as “over the top,” as “foolishness,” and “not befitting” City Paper.
“Write as you will, but introducing the private relationship of junior staff members into this piece with nothing more than a reference to that relationship being ‘widely known’ is highly irresponsible and potentially damaging to individuals who [have] nothing to do with what you are trying to speak about,” DC_DunSun commented on our website. “There may be many relationships to explore as part of this topic, but two paragraphs dedicated to this only show that your actual grasp and research of this topic is weak and misguided.”
Others reacted to the piece more wholesale. “Loose Lips does a good job of describing the nearly universal challenge posed by decisionmakers’ very human preference for friends, family, and contributors,” Aquene1 commented. “Few proponents tout the pay to play proposals as a cure all, so it’s a bit of a straw man to suggest that they would be. Rather, limiting of cash city contractors can give to candidates is a common sense measure that can help a deep and complex problem so eloquently described here. The human element of the problem is difficult to solve in policy, but policy still has an important role to play.”
For the record, we agree, and City Paper supports the aforementioned campaign finance reform. Meanwhile, an internal Dantes Partners memo in the wake of our piece suggests that it plans to update its “fraternization” policies.