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The growing controversy over the Park Southern housing complex made it to the D.C. Council dais today, as At-Large Councilmember and mayoral hopeful David Catania pushed for rival and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser‘s committee to investigate missing funds tied to two of her prominent supporters.
The dispute, first reported by the Washington Post, centers on the deteriorating Park Southern housing complex in Ward 8. With the property beset by tenant disputes, alleged mismanagement, and more than $600,000 in debts to the D.C. government, the District took over the building in April.
Former Ward 8 Democrats president Rowena Joyce Scott, who leads the nonprofit group that previously ran Park Southern, claims that the property seizure is an attempt by Mayor Vince Gray to punish her for backing Bowser during the mayoral primary. Bowser, whose economic development committee covers housing issues, reportedly wanted to know details about the takeover and asked for information about the legal authority behind the Park Southern seizure.
Another Bowser supporter in Ward 8, Phinis Jones, is attempting to buy the property. His management company, which once worked on Park Southern, has reportedly not handed over $300,000 worth of rent to the District’s operator.
Today, Catania’s campaign seized the story. In a press release, the campaign called on Bowser to investigate Park Southern and find out, among other things, where the money has allegedly withheld went. (Jones’ lawyer didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment.)
“Why is Councilmember Bowser refusing to hold a hearing to assist the tenants of Park Southern and to get to the bottom of this alleged misconduct?” the release reads.
Catania followed up during today’s lengthy final Council meeting before the summer recess with an amendment that would have permitted Bowser’s committee to launch an investigation during the break.
Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry said he hadn’t heard about the proposed investigation on his home turf, while At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange said the legislation was politically motivated (and he should know!). Catania offered to drop the amendment if Barry could explain what happened to the money. Even when Barry didn’t take him up on the offer, though, Catania eventually withdrew it.
For her part, Bowser says she isn’t blocking an attempt to investigate Park Southern.
“Political grandstanding and baseless accusations don’t improve the conditions at Park Southern, and that’s why [Bowser] called on the Administration and the management to come to the table to get to the bottom of the issues,” Bowser campaign spokesman Joaquin McPeek writes in an email.
Early in the primary race, Gray thought Scott was backing him, according to Thies. Scott’s loyalty was so unquestioned that campaign included her in a private planning meeting at Martin Luther King Ave. SE’s Bunn Building ahead of the straw poll. Scott failed to deliver her votes for the straw poll vote, which helped contribute to Gray’s loss, according to Thies.
Later in the race, Scott appeared in a Washington Post article as a Bowser supporter, a revelation that Thies says “appalled” him and points to her attempt to curry favor with the mayoral hopefuls.
“She was losing her stature, her livelihood, her home, everything was on the line,” Thies says. ‘They say there’s nothing more dangerous in nature than a wounded animal. Well, there’s a wounded animal.”
For her part, Scott blames Gray’s disappointing straw poll showing on poor planning and Gray’s late entry into the race. She denies any wrongdoing in connection with Park Southern and says that she thinks both she and Bowser are caught in Catania’s campaign ploy.
“It’s politics, so he’s trying to give it his best shot,” Scott tells LL. “Bless his heart.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery