City Paper is not for tourists
It’s common practice in American politics to reward campaign workers on winning campaigns with government jobs in a new administration. “To the victor go the spoils,” as former Mayor for Life Marion Barry is fond of saying.
In most places, for the campaign workers on the losing team, it’s tough luck; their consolation prize is the fond memories of having busted their humps for a defeated cause, with maybe a few T-shirts and other trinkets thrown in.
Fortunately for Still Mayor Adrian Fenty’s team, the District isn’t most places.
Several workers from Fenty’s failed re-election bid were given well-paying city jobs soon after the Sept. 14 primary—and shortly before the mayor ordered a citywide hiring freeze to help bridge a $175 million budget gap, campaign and city payroll records show.
Loose Lips found at least five former Fenty campaign workers who were hired by the District in the week before the mayor ordered a freeze. No one LL talked with knew exactly how many had gotten in under the wire; one source guessed as high as 15. A detailed records request is pending. Regardless, those hired say they’re qualified for their new jobs (which, as politically appointed positions, will only last until Fenty’s term is over) and that they’re workers the mayor knows and trusts to do their new city jobs effectively during the last few months of his tenure.
That’s certainly one way to look at it. A more cynical view (this is LL, after all) is that some favored campaign aides are being rewarded at the taxpayers’ expense, at a time when the cash-strapped city can’t afford such generosity.
Most new hires were brought on board between Sept. 27 and Sept. 29, records show. On Sept. 27, the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, told city officials the District was about to start its new fiscal year already $175 million in the hole. In response, Almost Mayor Vincent Gray called for a freeze on hiring and promoting city workers. Fenty ordered a hiring freeze on Oct. 4.
What looks a little worse: The Fenty administration fired some city workers right after the primary and replaced them with campaign aides who were seen as more loyal to their cause. What looks a lot worse: some of the new hires have ties to Fenty’s friend Sinclair Skinner, a failed dry cleaner under investigation for winning city engineering contracts, allegedly thanks to his friendship with Fenty.
Who got the new jobs may have come down to how hard they worked on behalf of their boss’s campaign. Former and current city staffers say certain people in the mayor’s office exerted strong pressure throughout the primary season to help Fenty’s re-election effort and kept close tabs on who was spending their free time volunteering and who was not. Several sources report hearing rumors of a list the Fenty folks kept of who was a “team player”—and who was not.
“You would get the understanding that even though it’s considered volunteering, it’s almost considered mandatory volunteering, which sounds like an oxymoron,” says one source, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal from the Fenty administration.
Joseph Martin, who is the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C chairman and worked in city government since just before Fenty’s term started, was fired three days after the election.
Martin, who had worked for the last several months in the mayor’s office on volunteerism, says he showed up for work the week of the election and was almost immediately told by his shaking and clearly upset boss, Tracy Sandler, to hand over his city-owned BlackBerry and ID card, pack up his things and exit the building. Sandler couldn’t be reached for comment. (Fun fact: Besides working for the D.C. government, Sandler’s résumé also includes voice-over acting, including as the voice of Barbie.)
“It was incredibly cruel,” Martin tells LL, though he says dismissals like that were pretty common during Fenty’s term. (Martin says he once saw one unaware former employee come back from vacation to find her replacement working at her desk.)
Asked why he thinks he was let go, Martin says one of the reasons could be that he wasn’t considered a “team player.” “There was this desire to move people into government jobs who had worked on the campaign,” Martin says.
Martin was replaced almost immediately by Fenty campaign aide Pascale Michele, who came on board Sept. 27. Michele was listed as a “consultant” in campaign finance disclosure forms, and paid $35,500. Her current city salary is $75,000 a year—the same as Martin’s. Several sources say Michele is close to Skinner, though LL heard varying accounts about the details of their relationship. Michele did not respond to requests for comment.
Another new hire is Tim White, who was paid $15,776 for working on the Fenty campaign. He started a new job on Sept. 28, as a “special assistant” with the mayor’s office at a salary of $66,150 a year, payroll records show. He also once worked with Skinner; during public testimony this April, Skinner said White was an independent contractor who worked as a project manager for Skinner’s engineering firm. White could not be reached for comment.
Fenty’s Ward 4 campaign coordinator, Josh Lopez, took a program analyst position at the deputy mayor’s office of planning and development on Sept. 27. His predecessor had stopped volunteering on the Fenty campaign for health reasons, and had been fired three days after the election.
Fenty spokesman Sean Madigan, who returned to the administration after a campaign post, says Lopez was hired to be an outreach coordinator for a public housing initiative. Lopez says he worked in a similar capacity for a non-profit from 2007 to 2009, and was brought on board to ensure a smooth transition for an important initiative. That may not be his only qualification: Lopez gained mild notoriety during the campaign for disrupting a Gray event with a bullhorn. He’s reportedly very close with Skinner.
Lopez quit the $72,000-a-year city job after only four days—to volunteer for a Fenty write-in campaign that the mayor is not supporting. He says he plans on donating the four days worth of city pay, which totals roughly $1,100, to charity. Lopez doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation, saying it’s normal for politicians to hire people they know and trust.
One new hire, Ian Conyers, graduated from Georgetown this year. He worked as a canvasser for the Fenty campaign, but he says his experience doing community outreach made him a good fit with his new city job as a constituent services representative for Ward 6—a position that had been vacant for several months prior to the election. Another constituent services worker, Louis Davis, started his job two days after Fenty ordered the hiring freeze. Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson says Davis was offered a job in September, but couldn’t start until later.
The Fenty administration also gave a $5,000 raise to campaign spokeswoman Helen Hare, when she returned to her city writer/editor job after the campaign. Hare’s public salary went from $45,000 a year to $70,000 a year in less than 16 months, with six months off working for the campaign, payroll records show.
If Fenty had won, all this might be business as usual. But he didn’t, and it’s clear from how Fenty has operated in the month after the primary that the mayor doesn’t actually need any new staff to run the city. Fenty has had virtually no public appearances since he lost (he missed one news conference because, his aide said, he was stuck in traffic), and staff say he’s been a rare sight at the Wilson Building.
Fenty also appears to be focused on deciding what his next gig is going to be, saying he wants to “hit the ground running” when his term ends on Jan. 2. Many interviewed for this story speculated that Fenty was unaware and uninterested in the recent rash of hirings and firings. The moves, they say, were made by some of his more powerful underlings.
But as much as Fenty might like to slink away quietly, he’s still the mayor of a city that has serious financial problems to deal with. And final responsibility for these last minute, unnecessary hirings—even if only temporary—lies with him.
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Photo by Darrow Montgomery