Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has recently embarked on his first-ever mea culpa tour. As this columnist has previously noted (“LL’s Midterm Evaluation,” 12/30), Fenty isn’t a guy used to apologizing. But after his own petulance led reporters to treat a series of misdemeanors as full-fledged felonies, he tried a new tack: that accountability thing he talks so much about.
Take Warmwatergate, where the city installed a $75,000 pool heater in the one outdoor facility Fenty uses regularly: “In retrospect, probably not something that we should have done. I’ve made a lot of mistakes as mayor of the District of Columbia.”
Kid escapes from the just-opened youth detention facility that Fenty pushed as a councilmember? “Any mistakes that occurred there shouldn’t have happened.…That’s squarely on my management team and myself.”
Friend of Fenty and city contractor Keith Lomax is discovered driving Fenty’s city-owned SUV? “I made a bad decision.…I’m not going to do that anymore.”
LL was glad to see the glimmer of self-reflection on Hizzoner; so were local TV stations, two of which did pieces on the “new” Mayor Fenty.
This era of good feelings, however, hasn’t changed the Fenty crew’s first response to controversy: quickly denying that anything’s been done wrong.
Take LL’s latest scoop: After the Lomax story broke, he sniffed around a bit and plugged the mayor’s plates into the DMV ticket payment database. He got a hit!
The mayor’s Smart Car Fortwo Passion Cabriolet picked up a $50 speeding ticket on Monday, May 11, while going westbound on the 5500 block of East Capitol Street NE.
Mafara Hobson, mayoral spokesperson, told LL that Fenty was indeed driving and that the ticket was issued by a camera. (Makes sense—would love to meet the cop with the balls to write the mayor a speeding ticket.)
OK, but what was Hizzoner doing in the far eastern reaches of the District—just blocks from Prince George’s County? That’s a question that Fenty’s public schedule doesn’t quite answer; there were no events that day in the vicinity.
Hobson later explained that Fenty did a private afternoon walk-through that day at the Watts Branch Rec Center, a few blocks from where the ticket was issued at 3:19 p.m. The walk-through had been scheduled from 2 to 3 p.m., Hobson said, to be followed by a press conference at D.C. Public Schools headquarters at 825 North Capitol Street. A media advisory LL dug out of his inbox says the presser had been scheduled for 3:15 p.m.—so no surprise he was speeding.
But before Hobson could explain the circumstances of the ticket, LL considered another possibility: What’s also in the vicinity of the speeding camera is the residence of Veronica Washington, the mayor’s personal assistant, who is regularly seen riding shotgun in the vehicle with Fenty and lives just off of East Capitol Street.
There were rumblings several months back that she was taking the car home on occasion for her personal use.
Last Wednesday, LL queried Washington’s neighbors on the matter. One woman who lives across the street from Washington, LaNay Carter, recognized the car when shown a picture. Carter said she’d seen the car in the neighborhood multiple times per week, not at any particular time of day. Two other residents of the block didn’t recognize the car, but three households that sit across the alley from Washington all told LL that they had seen the car multiple times, going in and out of Washington’s garage, which opens onto the alley.
One resident across the alley, who declined to give her name, said she’d seen the car two or three times a week; that person said the car sometimes “goes in the garage and stays.” Another cross-alley neighbor, Jasmine Dunston, says, “I’ll see it at least once a week” going into the garage.
Why is it an issue if Washington is using the car?
The car is municipally owned, and city law holds that such autos are to be used “only in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties.” Furthermore, the law states, “travel between the officer’s or employee’s residence and workplace” is specifically prohibited. The same statute provides that those rules do “not apply to the Mayor or, with the approval of the Mayor, to officers and employees of the District government the character of whose duties make such transportation necessary,” but there’s also a congressional budget rider prohibiting spending on take-home cars except under certain limited circumstances—none of which would seem to include Washington’s.
Plus, as the mayor’s special assistant, she earns $107,635, which would seem to be enough to fund her own vehicle.
Attorney General Peter Nickles, in a statement provided in response to LL’s queries, says that Washington drove the car with the mayor’s approval “on rare occasions” and “in furtherance of her official duties.” Thus Washington’s actions, Nickles states, “were lawful, proper, necessary, and appropriate.”
That no-problem-here analysis is in keeping with Nickles’ findings on the mayor’s activities regarding his travel, his role in the donation of an ambulance and fire truck to the Dominican Republic, and his use of Lomax as chauffeur.
Says Nickles foe and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, “I think honestly that it diminishes credibility to find every time there’s an issue, that the attorney general comes back, rapid-fire, fully endorsing the legal basis for the mayor’s actions.” Cheh, who has oversight responsibility for the mayor’s office, declined to address the Smart Car’s take-home use.
LL asked for elaboration on what about Washington’s work responsibilities makes her use of the tiny car necessary. Fenty referred questions along those lines to Nickles. “I can’t really reinterpret the attorney general’s opinion,” he said. “I certainly stand by it.…Peter’s been working hard on this.”
Pressed on the “character” of Washington’s duties, Nickles explained that she uses the car in a situation such as this: “The mayor goes to some community deal; he’s taken home by security, and Veronica usually takes the car so she has some protected way of getting home and she doesn’t have to take a cab.” Would that all of us had Nickles looking out for our commuterly protection.
As for one of those apologies that Fenty’s been so generous with as of late, nothing forthcoming on that front. LL compared the Smart Car issue with the Lomax issue, but Fenty didn’t detect any parallels: “The situation with Mr. Lomax, that’s just somebody driving my car. The situation with government employees driving cars is a big, broader issue.”
It’s a broad enough issue that D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols is looking into it, with a focus on how a staffer can get the keys. “Written authorization should be required,” she says—a point that Nickles disputes. “That is good government. If there are not procedures in place, there should be.”
As for the speeding ticket, LL checked the DMV database on Tuesday: It’s been paid.
Father Knows Best?
Those of you searching for a candidate chomping at the bit to take on Fenty and his $2 million-plus war chest, look out: An honest-to-God 2010 mayoral challenger has made his first nibble.
Well, his dad has, anyway.
Marshall Brown, the longtime political organizer and father of At-Large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown, sent out an e-mail on Sunday night soliciting support for a mayoral draft campaign aimed at his son.
“Would you lend your name to the Kwame Brown for Mayor Draft Committee,” the short e-mail asks, telling recipients to “send this to your email list.” Two sources consulted by LL also report getting calls from Marshall Brown inquiring whether they might lend support to a Kwame-for-Mayor campaign.
Marshall Brown, reached Monday, said he was merely passing on the message as a favor to someone he identified as Reggie Robinson.
Robinson told LL he’s part of “a bunch of people” who would support a Kwame Brown run: “I mean, we just began to talk about it, that’s all.” Marshall Brown, he says, sent out some e-mails, and “I sent mine to different other people.”
Robinson, 69 and retired from the D.C. Department of Employment Services, says he’s been a friend of Marshall Brown for about 40 years and has known Kwame Brown “since he was a youngster.” He’s supporting a mayoral run for the younger Brown because, he says, “I think he’s qualified for the job.”
As for the current mayor, he says, “I’m just totally dissatisfied with him, period—his attitude, everything about him.”
Told about the messages his father had sent out, Kwame Brown seemed incredulous. “What?” he exclaimed. “You don’t have no e-mail that says that!”
LL informed Brown that he indeed did: “No, it’s impossible!”
Brown said he knows “three or four Reggie Robinsons,” and thus had no idea who might have been responsible for the creation of the pitch.
LL expressed some doubt that his dad would send out such a message without his knowledge. “I haven’t spoken to my dad in about two weeks,” he says. “I’m just as shocked as you were if you got an e-mail like that.”
Pressed on his electoral intentions, he said, “I have no interest, as I’ve mentioned a hundred times. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it.…I’m flattered that people think I’ve done good work, but right now, I’m concentrated on being an at-large councilmember and a father and that’s it.”
LL pressed him for an absolute no-2010-run pledge. He didn’t get one. “At this moment, I’m not running for mayor,” he says. “I’m continuing to focus on education, getting job training for people, and being a great at-large councilmember for the District of Columbia.”
Marshall Brown, as it happens, took virtually no visible role in his son’s take-no-prisoners re-election campaign last year. The elder Brown, however, has deep city political ties that served his son well in his insurgent run against Harold Brazil in 2004. Less successful was his stint as Linda Cropp’s field organizer in 2006. Most recently, he was paid handsomely for running Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss’ re-election campaign last year.
As for his dad’s antics, Kwame Brown says, “fathers always have aspirations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
• So much for the expert witnesses!
Last Friday, Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss pleaded guilty to a drunk-driving charge he’d picked up in Adams Morgan last October. The plea represents a change in tactics for Strauss, who had promised to contest the charges ever since LL last year broke the story of his arrest.
Earlier this year, he managed to have his trial delayed until this week; his lawyer, Claire Morris Clark, explained then that the time was necessary to secure expert testimony on an undisclosed aspect of Strauss’ case.
So what gave? Perhaps Strauss saw what a D.C. Superior Court judge did to former councilmember Harold Brazil and his high-priced counsel: Despite contesting the circumstances of an October tattoo-shop fracas in a two-day trial, Brazil last month was found guilty of assault by Judge Jennifer Anderson.
Brazil, however, got a lighter sentence. Anderson handed him 30 days suspended and six months of unsupervised probation; Strauss got a 60-day suspended jail sentence, 11 months of supervised probation, and $400 in fines. Under supervised probation, Strauss must “abstain from the use of hallucinatory or other drugs, and submit to drug testing.”
Neither Strauss nor Clark returned calls for comment.
Additional reporting by Jason Cherkis
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