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The benefits of being a D.C. councilmember include a great salary, free parking, and opportunities to crush your political enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women—if you’re into that kind of thing.
Take the case of disgraced former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and the lottery contract. In December 2009, the council ended the long-running lottery saga by approving Greek gaming giant Intralot and its local partner, Emmanuel Bailey, as the lotto’s contractors. A few days after the vote, Kenneth R. Brown, a senior vice president at Bailey’s company, gave Thomas a heads up that one of his old political rivals, Frank Wilds, was interested in meeting with Bailey to talk lotto business. Wilds ran unsuccessfully against Thomas in 2006 (he also ran unsuccessfully in the recent special election to fill Thomas’ seat).
“I explained to Emmanuel, that there may be some sensitivity here for you,” Brown wrote to Thomas. “We both, just wanted to keep you informed.”
Thomas wrote back a few minutes later to give a green light to his old foe. “He has my blessings,” Thomas wrote.
It’s not clear whether any deal was ever consummated. Wilds wasn’t immediately available for comment, but during the special election he made it a point to say that he didn’t have any type of business connections to District government.
LL has messages in with Bailey, Brown, and Thomas, who is due to report to federal prison any day now.
On one hand, the email exchange (posted below) could be taken as a pretty benign courtesy heads-up to Thomas. But the larger message speaks to the enormous power (some say too much power) councilmembers have in controlling city contracting. It’s an unspecified power that goes far beyond the juice that’s codified: like having a vote on approving/disapproving contracts over $1 million or having the ability to delay implementing contracts. What if Thomas was sore at Wilds for running in 2006 and did have a problem with his meeting with Bailey? Would Thomas have had the power to block a potential subcontractor on a city contract over purely political motives?
It’s tough to know without comment from Bailey and Brown, but the emails suggest that Thomas could have sunk Wilds’ chances of even meeting with the pair. And note that the emails were written after the council, including Thomas, had already approved the lotto deal. It’s also worth pointing out that allegations of a “personal vendetta” clouding a councilmember’s judgement on the lottery contract are currently dogging Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham. Graham has, LL is sure you recall, denied any wrongdoing.
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