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Mayor Vince Gray faced the press this afternoon to vehemently deny ex-Department of Health Care Finance employee Sulaimon Brown‘s accusations in the Washington Post that he was given cash payments and a lucrative job in the administration in exchange for support during the campaign.
The Post uncovered text messages from Gray to Brown, one of which said that “agreements” had been honored. Gray says this referred only to a promise that Brown would get a job interview, and that Brown’s resume was good enough to merit consideration. “There was a feeling that he had the credentials,” Gray said. “Clearly, the hope was that he would do well in that position.”
Gray announced that he had directed D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan to launch an official investigation into the matter. He also invited Council Chairman Kwame Brown to undertake one as well.
But with a hot story on its hands, the Wilson Building media was doing its own questioning as well, pushing the mayor to explain how his administration came to offer a $110,000 job to a minor mayoral candidate who last year served as a reliable campaign-trail foil for Adrian Fenty the man Gray would eventually beat. Gray was also placed in the uncomfortable position of being asked for hard evidence to prove a negative—in this case, proof that Brown was not given the cash payments he claims to have received.
Brown had alleged that he had received the payments from Howard Brooks, a Gray campaign consultant. In the Post story, Brooks declined comment until he could have an attorney present. Gray, who says he hasn’t spoken with Brooks recently, says he “worked very hard” and had “myriad responsibilities,” among them working on outreach to taxicab drivers. Pressed on why Brooks hadn’t categorically denied Brown’s allegations, Gray said he didn’t know.
As for Brown’s hiring, Gray said that after an initial interview, Brown was referred to DHCF’s chief of staff, Talib Karim. “I think they collaborated on this and decided to bring him on board,” Gray said.
Asked about his close advisor Lorraine Green, who Brown also says gave him cash payments, Gray said he had heard three or four days ago about her intention to retire from Amtrak. He said he doesn’t think the two are connected. She won’t be joining the administration, he said, and her nomination to the Washington Convention and Sports Authority stands.
And regarding that 15-minute phone conversation that phone records show between Gray and Brown: Gray says he still can’t recall exactly what it was about, but thinks it may have been in regard to a forum at the D.C. Insurance Federation.
In a sign of how rough a patch the new mayor has had, the day also brought news that Karim, the man Gray cited in explaining Brown’s hire, had resigned just days after LL’s report about his own questionable background. Gray said he didn’t know whether Karim was asked to resign or whether he did so voluntarily.
In classic damage-control style, Gray repeatedly tried to move the narrative forward from several week’s worth of stories about bad hires and flashy cars, emphasizing high-quality appointments and talking up plans for education and workforce development. But he did acknowledge being concerned about public trust in his administration.
“It’s counterproductive and distracting,” he said. “I want to move on with the business of the city.”
An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the department where Brown and Karim were employed.