Organized labor groups are gearing up to oppose Mayor Vince Gray‘s decision to put one of his favorite lobbyists, Rod Woodson, on the D.C. Water board of directors, according to city and union officials.

Yesterday, Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells put the brakes on Woodson’s nomination, over potential conflict-of-interest concerns stemming from Woodson’s work on behalf of Skanska, a Swedish-based construction company that recently won a $330 million contract to build a giant sewage tunnel planned as part of a $2.6 billion river clean-up effort.

In response to Wells’ concerns, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh has put off Woodson’s nomination for two weeks. Woodson says he only worked on behalf of Skanska for a single day, and he’s perfectly willing to recuse himself when any potential conflict of interests arise. He adds that he has a stellar record, relevant experience, and no other motivation but to “provide a public service.”

Even so, expect unions to make a push against the nomination before the vote comes up. Labor is upset because Woodson’s highly connected law firm, Holland & Knight, is trying to undo the District’s First Source law, which is aimed at requiring builders to meet specific targets of local hires. Holland & Knight represents the Associated Builders and Contractors, which recently filed suit against the city.

Court records don’t show Woodson working on that case, though he has lobbied on behalf of one of the major plaintiffs, construction behemoth Miller & Long. So it may be a bit of a stretch to try and punish Woodson for the lawsuit if he personally has nothing to do with it. Woodson says he doesn’t know what any of this has to do with the D.C. Water board. “This fixation on my criticism of First Source is perplexing to me,” he says.

But there are plenty of other reasons why Woodson’s pick is a bit of a headscratcher. For one, is a high-priced lobbyist whose livelihood is tied to District government construction and land-use issues really the best pick to help oversee a public water utility? Is someone in the thick of the game going to make for a good referee? Woodson, of course, says he’d be a fair judge. But these were the same type of questions that tanked Betty Noel‘s nomination to the Public Service Commission.

Consider that everyone’s water bill will be climbing dramatically in the next decade in order to pay for the $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project. And consider that D.C. Water’s board is being lobbied by downtown property owners over how big a credit, if any, they should get on their water bills for reducing their stormwater runoff. The property owners may make fair points, but is a partner at Holland & Knight really who the city wants deciding that stuff? Never mind that the bulk of the $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project has yet to be spent, and the board will approve or disapprove huge construction contracts. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who says he has concerns about the Woodson pick, says there would be little point in putting Woodson on the board if he had to recuse himself on all the important votes.

One other thing to consider: Woodson’s ties to the failed bid by local political insiders to win the lucrative D.C. Lottery contract. Woodson was on a team that included Lorraine Green, Gray’s campaign chairwoman, and Howard Brooks, a Gray campaign aide. Brooks recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about making payments to fringe mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown. Court records indicate that Green knew about those improper payments. And the FBI has started interviewing people about the lottery contract. Woodson, of course, had nothing to do with Sulaimon Brown, and there’s no evidence he did anything wrong on the lottery contract either. But still, can’t Gray find anyone who wasn’t part of the lottery imbroglio for the water board?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery