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Quite a few things annoy Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh these days.
Anonymous D.C. Council staffers telling reporters Cheh is “caught between a rock and a hard place”: annoying.
“Why don’t you make the judgment based on what I’ve done, as opposed to some theory that I’m in a tight spot. So what is the problem here? What is the problem?” Cheh says.
The press saying she’s in the tank for Mayor Vince Gray: also annoying.
“This is just so unfair to me, it’s just infuriating me actually. You want to have a theme, and you want to have a story, you want to create something, but the reality belies it,” Cheh says.
Witnesses not answering subpoenas, and a long parade of Gray aides giving her committee bullshit answers: really annoying.
“It annoys me greatly for people to think either that they can thumb their nose at us and just not come, or to come and tell us stuff that ain’t true,” Cheh says.
At the risk of annoying her further, LL needs to give a brief background on the politically awkward position Cheh is in. She’s fresh from overseeing four very long hearings on the early days of the Gray administration, including the hiring of failed mayoral candidate-turned-wildly successful media star Sulaimon Brown (who says he was given cash and promised a job in exchange for bashing then-Mayor Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail) and the placement of children of senior aides in government jobs.
The hearings yielded no earth-shattering news, but they were well attended by the press, and gave new life to a story that derailed Gray’s honeymoon.
Except Cheh is also one of the mayor’s closest supporters. She went out on a limb by endorsing him over Fenty, who was far more popular in Ward 3 than elsewhere in the District.
The gulf between how her constituents feel about Gray and Cheh’s support for the mayor have led to questions about how she’s leading the investigation into the administration’s hiring practices. (Councilmember David Catania labeled an initial report from Cheh a “whitewash.”)
Cheh, a former prosecutor who teaches constitutional law at George Washington University, seethes at any suggestion she hasn’t played it straight down the middle.
“If you’re suggesting that I pulled punches with any of the witnesses, again, I would think you’re quite wrong,” Cheh says.
Having watched all 4,000 hours of the hearings, LL can tell you that Cheh’s got a point. While she may not have pressed as hard as Catania, Cheh was pretty tough. In fact, during last week’s testimony of Gray confidante Lorraine Green, Cheh seemed just about fed up.
In her opening remarks, Cheh said several aides had committed perjury, and called out Gray’s former human resources director, Judy Banks, by name. Cheh also said the storyline peddled by Green—that Brown was promised a job interview, not a job—was “implausible.”
Anyone might be frustrated by the answers some of Gray’s closest aides gave. It seems like a number of aides either have such bad memories they ought to see a doctor, or they didn’t take their oaths to tell the truth very seriously.
For instance: Gray’s transition chairman, Reuben Charles, told the committee he didn’t have a role in hiring people for the administration. But recently released emails indicate that he helped wanna-be city workers with political capital get noticed.
Former Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall says she kept an “arms length” distance from the District’s hiring “process” when it came to her son’s job application. But her son directly contradicted her in private testimony, according to council staff. (Hall’s son has a medical condition that required he be interviewed privately.)
As for Banks, Cheh says her testimony was “shot through with perjury.” Banks’s testimony has been contradicted by at least four others who testified under oath. And her emails contradict what she told the council, particularly on how the son of a Gray department head got hired at the fire department.
“You can’t prove that what I’m saying is not true,” Banks told the committee.
Cheh’s response, in essence? Watch me. She says she’ll seek permission to forward evidence of perjury to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
But her annoyance with Gray’s top aides doesn’t extend to the mayor. In Cheh’s view, Gray’s only sin was trusting Banks, Green, and Hall to make hiring decisions. She still has no regrets about supporting Gray over Fenty.
“Maybe [Gray’s] not going to be, you know, everything that one could hope, but I know that from experience that it was not sustainable for Fenty to stay as mayor,” Cheh says.
Maybe. But Cheh came to the council as a Fenty ally, before getting fed up with his style. Cheh says her relationship with Gray isn’t as close at it was—because he’s in a different “orbit” than when they worked closely together on the council.
Cheh says the only time she and Gray discussed the hearings was after news broke of Brown’s accusations, when Cheh sent Gray a text message.
“I said, ‘Just want you to know, I’m going to have to look into this,’” Cheh says. To which Gray replied with a “: (”
Not really, but it would be cool if he had.
“And he never said anything, and that was that,” she says.
A THOUSAND WORDS
If you’ve already cancelled your subscription to The Washington Post, you missed a rather odd picture on the Saturday editorial page.
The paper of record ran an editorial questioning why Gray’s former chief of staff had marked on her calendar a reminder to call the attorney for Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., who is under investigation by the attorney general’s office for running an alleged “slush fund” called Team Thomas. (Both Thomas’ attorney and the mayor’s office say the meeting never happened.)
Next to the editorial was a picture of Gray, Thomas and—who else?—Sulaimon Brown, all grinning and looking happy-like. Brown’s inclusion struck LL as a bit unfair; Brown has nothing to do with Team Thomas, and Thomas has nothing to do with the Brown mess.
The photo apparently stuck in Gray’s craw, too. When asked by WTOP’s Mark Segraves, Gray said the photo was “way beyond the pale,” and that the Post should explain itself.
So LL asked Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, to do just that. Says Hiatt: “We weren’t trying to make any big statement; it was just an archive photo of three people very much in the news, taken during the campaign.”
OK, but LL suspects the Post has at least one file photo of just Gray and Thomas, sans Sulaimon. Thomas, after all, is the mayor’s faithful sidekick and seems to show up at just about every public mayoral event.
As it stands, by using the Sulaimon picture, the Post undercut a perfectly legitimate editorial and gave ammo to Thomas’ mostly B.S. complaint that the investigation is nothing more than a politicized witch hunt. Which is why this column is accompanied by a photo of just Mary Cheh, not a file photo of Cheh and Brown hand-dancing atop a pile of cash.
Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to email@example.com. Or call (202) 650-6951.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery