Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham planned a press briefing this afternoon to capitalize on a Washington Post story about Graham’s contention that opponent Brianne Nadeau committed fraud and got improper help (from, among others, Graham) buying a condo. But the briefing took a turn when Nadeau showed up with her own supporters.
Graham’s press conference—-which drew just two reporters, including LL—-was already unusual even before it started. Graham decided to meet in the Starbucks in the J.W. Marriott hotel across the street from the Wilson Building, a meeting spot popular with Council staffers and pols wary of Hatch Act violations.
“I’m a little uncomfortable having it here, to be honest,” Graham told LL.
Have it there he did, though. The press conference/media briefing amounted to Graham explaining his accusations against Nadeau, which he sent in a letter on Council letterhead Friday to the District’s Office of the Inspector General.
The gist: Nadeau applied in 2007 for a Housing Purchase Assistant Program loan administered by the Greater Washington Urban League, which would have given her a low-interest loan to pay for a down payment and closing costs. By the time Nadeau’s condo was built and she received the loan in 2009, though, Graham thinks that her salary (available online, since she was then a congressional staffer) had risen too high for her to receive the assistance.
Graham says he wants to see Nadeau’s 2007 application to resolve his questions, but the Urban League told the Post the application is in storage. Nadeau, who denies any wrongdoing, released two letters of eligibility she received today from the program; her actual salary was unchanged, she says, but bonuses pushed her total income higher.
The incumbent didn’t always have the doubts about Nadeau’s application that he raised today: After the Urban League reduced her assistance because of her higher salary, Nadeau sent emails to Graham, then-Council Chairman Vince Gray, and the Urban League asking for help and eventually received the full assistance. Graham, the emails show, helped her get it, writing a city housing official on her behalf, “Please do all you can.”
Nadeau signed her emails about the help with her title as an ANC 1B commissioner, something she says was an automatic signature attached to all of her emails at the time. Graham, though, claims that Nadeau was using her position to benefit herself.
He compared Nadeau’s loan application to the bank fraud that brought down former D.C. Council chairman Kwame Brown.
“If it’s good enough for the goose, is it good enough for the gander?” Graham asked, saying he’d need to see her original application before saying whether Nadeau could be open to criminal penalties. The tight quarters in the Starbucks made for an awkward press briefing, with Graham denouncing Nadeau’s alleged corruption while Nadeau supporters stood feet away from Graham with signs accusing him of corruption.
The complaint struck Nadeau as ironic, she said, given that Graham used his Council letterhead to tell the inspector general about the loan. But Graham insists there’s no comparison between him and Nadeau. “I am a public official, and this is wrongdoing,” Graham says.
Graham repeated the charge after he ran into Nadeau, who was waiting with other supporters outside the Starbucks. After looking at more of Nadeau’s documents, Graham turned to leave, only for Nadeau to accuse him of misusing his office to pursue her.
“I am a public official, which you will never be!” Graham said, stepping closer to his opponent. Then, at the urging of chief of staff Calvin Woodland, Graham left.
Photo by Will Sommer