It’s been a year since Vincent B. Orange Sr. lost his portfolio in D.C. politics. Known for a wacky persona and political stuntdom, Orange held the Ward 5 seat on the D.C. Council for two terms. Then he made a run at the mayor’s suite and got clobbered, leaving him on the outside looking in.
Correct that: on the inside looking in. Orange this year has made little effort to avoid Wilson Building corridors. Staffers report frequent Orange sightings, and the Washington Post reported in April that he had been wandering the halls distributing invites to his 50th birthday party.
A more recent set of Wilson Building forays may have the former councilmember pushing the envelope of D.C. lobbying laws.
In November, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2007, which would accomplish a number of enviro-friendly feats such as increasing the city’s reliance on renewable energy and promoting the installation of solar panels.
And then there was this: The bill would also “[d]etermine the feasibility of converting the polluting Benning Road power plant to a clean, natural-gas-fired power plant,” according to a Cheh press release. Now, that Benning Road power plant, its emissions long a target of neighborhood ire, is owned by Pepco, and converting a power plant—even merely studying it—might be a silly exercise considering that the local electric utility has proposed shuttering it by 2012.
That’s where Orange comes in. Now that he’s without his $92,520 council job, Orange has found employment as the new regional vice president for Pepco. And who better to explain to Cheh and her colleagues exactly what a bad idea the energy bill would be?
The former Ward 5 councilmember got right on the job, approaching former colleagues that included his successor, Harry Thomas Jr., and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander in early November. The plant is located in Alexander’s bailiwick and is immediately adjacent to Thomas’. Orange reportedly asked them to hold off on co-introducing Cheh’s bill.
All in a day’s work for Orange, right? Well, according to the D.C. personnel handbook, folks who have left senior positions in government service should be barred from lobbying or otherwise communicating with the District government for two years on any matter in which they had “official responsibility.” On all other matters, Orange is supposed to stay away from “any transactions…in connection with any particular government matter pending before the [council]” for a year.
Such laws, the regs state, are “aimed at the possible use of personal influence based on past governmental affiliations to facilitate the transaction of business.”
The only exemptions provided for are if a former employee is still in government service; works for a college, university, or nonprofit health concern; or possesses “outstanding qualifications in a scientific, technological, or other technical discipline.”
LL doubts that Orange’s considerable Home Depot-luring skills qualify.
In an interview, Orange took a two-pronged approach to defending his activities. First, he denies doing any lobbying. “What you’re talking about is a letter questioning some of the aspects of the energy bill,” he says. “As it relates to me, I’m not lobbying.”
Pepco, Orange says, has two lobbyists registered with the District’s Office of Campaign Finance: senior VP for government affairs Beverly L. Perry and regional president Thomas Graham. Orange says part of his role has been to accompany Perry and Graham while they do their own lobbying work.
So he just stands there? “I’m not going to get into the distinctions,” Orange says.
As for his role with the energy bill, Orange declined to detail his specific activities on Pepco’s behalf: “I’m not going to speak to any of that.”
Orange’s other argument is that the District’s employment regulations don’t apply to elected officials—to wit, that the D.C. Council’s general counsel had drafted an opinion saying so some years back. LL was unable to verify this with the general counsel’s office before his early holiday deadline.
Of course, if he’s free to lobby, why go to such lengths to avoid calling yourself a lobbyist? Says Orange: “Over here, it’s our policy that we’re going to err on the side of caution.”
Since clearing out his office, Orange has undoubtedly done the most of his fellow ’07 council grads to leverage his legislative chops. Former Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty, of course, is still in the District’s employ. His mayoral-race foe, Linda Cropp, is enjoying retirement. Ward 6’s Sharon Ambrose continues to battle health problems. And former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson is rarely seen at local political functions, seeing as she’s been hard at work lobbying the Hill for nonprofit Pre-K Now since March.
Though he’s left public service, Orange certainly hasn’t left politics. LL’s spotted him at several events over the past few months, including the Anacostia Coordinating Council’s annual boat ride (wearing a sharp seersucker ensemble) and at last month’s D.C. Democratic State Committee holiday party.
Orange’s interference in the energy legislation certainly annoyed Cheh, who called Graham to complain about Orange’s meddling.
Says Cheh: “I don’t know exactly how Webster’s defines lobbying, but when people are encouraged not to sign on as cosponsors, and they do it on behalf of a corporation for whom they work, that sounds like lobbying to me.”
Thomas says that Orange approached him about the energy legislation, but his predecessor didn’t get very far with him. “I told him it was a good bill,” Thomas says. “I don’t think they put the hard press on us.”
Indeed, it seems Orange could have used some extra time to hone his lobbying skills.
“I had nine co-introducers when I started in the morning,” Cheh says, “and I had nine co-introducers afterwards.”
Statehood Money Rolls In
Of the various hardships borne by the District’s shadow congressional delegation, most ignored goes the burden on the wallets. Shadow Sens. Michael D. Brown and Paul Strauss and Shadow Rep. Mike Panetta operate out of offices in the Wilson Building dungeon on no more than a shoestring budget, meaning office expenses sometimes get absorbed by the politicos themselves.
To help out, back in late 2004, the D.C. Council created a “Statehood Delegation Fund” to help support the operations of the too-easily ignored shadow delegation. To that end, the council saw fit to give District taxpayers the option of donating to the fund on their yearly income tax returns.
Since then, the fund has had an ignominious history. Two years ago, the Office of Tax and Revenue—under the watch of the now-tax-scam-disgraced Sherryl Hobbs Newman—simply forgot to include the donation option on most fiscal 2005 return forms, meaning only about $600 ended up in the fund’s coffers. But for last year’s returns, the city finally got everything figured out, and now the money’s apparently rolling in.
According to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Statehood Delegation Fund took in $31,141.70 in taxpayer monies last year.
“Paul Strauss and I certainly put a whole bunch of our own money into it, so it’s nice to have something here,” he says.
Brown et al. can’t embark on that Staples shopping spree just yet: The administration of the money falls by statute to a thus-far-dormant Statehood Delegation Fund Commission, which consists of nine members—five appointed by the mayor and the rest appointed by the council chairman. Apparently the commission will soon be roused: Fenty’s asked longtime voting-rights activist and Fenty supporter John Capozzi to serve on the panel. “They called and said, ‘Your name has been recommended,’ and I enthusiastically accepted,” he says.
Fenty spokesperson Carrie Brooks says Capozzi’s the only person who had been tapped so far. He’s scheduled to be sworn in later this month.
But what to do with the funds, beyond pencils and paper clips for the delegation?
“If you ask me what to do,” Brown says, “I’d try to put together some ways to raise even more money.”
Pisses Off Another Activist
The Fenty administration’s relations with local rabble-rousers have not gotten off to a particularly smooth start, what with the June arrest of good-government activist Dorothy Brizill for the alleged assault of a Fenty staffer. (The charges were eventually dropped.)
Now another neighborhood activist is accusing Fenty folks of foul play.
On the afternoon of Dec. 17, Robert Brannum headed down to the mayoral bullpen in the Wilson Building to attend a meeting concerning crime in his Bloomingdale neighborhood. But about 45 minutes before the meeting, Brannum, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and civic-association honcho, got an e-mail saying that the U.S. Attorney’s Office “has not granted clearance for your attendance to this meeting.” Brannum went anyway, and he says that when he showed up, Fenty staffer Clinton LeSueur ushered Brannum out and had police keep him out of the meeting—again citing the U.S. Attorney’s Office as the problem.
That set Brannum off, and he quickly e-mailed U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor for an explanation. An employee at the prosecutor’s office responded that they hadn’t “cleared” anyone for the meeting.
The next day, Brannum brought a complaint against LeSueur to ethics officer Thorn Pozen in the city attorney general’s office and to the Office of Campaign Finance. On Dec. 20, Pozen replied to Brannum that he’d “found no actual or apparent violations of the District’s ethics laws or regulations.” Brannum has yet to hear from the OCF.
It’s not Brannum’s first dust-up with the Fenty administration. Back in June, Brannum was reportedly the subject of a city investigation after an alleged altercation with Victor Reinoso, Fenty’s deputy mayor for education. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Brannum, have no doubt, is alleging a whitewash in l’affaire du bullpen.
“I think the mayor’s practice of doing things in secret is wrong,” he says. “I don’t really believe that he wants the public involved in governing process….His style is harsh, his style is one of vindictiveness.”
The mayoral press office did not reply to LL’s inquiries about the incident by press time.
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