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Earlier today, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty engaged in a Q&A at Nathans restaurant; there, owner Carol Joynt asked him about his controversial recent travel to the United Arab Emirates.
He roundly defended the trip, calling the criticism he received the same-old, same-old: “I think you expect on every given day on every given issue that people will challenge you,” he said.
While abroad, Fenty inserted himself into an international incident by attending a tennis tournament to which an Israeli player had been denied entrance; he later explained that away by noting that the tournament later agreed to allow another Israeli participate, making it, in Fenty’s mind, A-OK for him to attend.
LL, for the most part, is willing to set aside the thorny issue of the tennis tournament. For one thing, WaPo’s Marc Fisher was also there this afternoon, asking Fenty questions on tournament, so I’ll leave him to weigh in on that aspect. But there’s other extremely troubling facts about the trip that Fenty refuses to confront: the secrecy and the money.
Allow LL to lay out exactly, Mr. Mayor, what’s wrong here.
It’s not that you’re traveling abroad. You yourself made foreign travel an issue during your council days by being a vocal critic—-rightly so—-of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his extensive travel to various exotic locales. But LL does not begrudge you a vacation—-in fact, when you traveled to the Caribbean with your family in 2007, it almost came as a pleasant surprise you wouldn’t be dogmatic about your Tonyphobia. And LL even doesn’t begrudge you the occasional trade mission.
What does rankle is unwarranted secrecy and undocumented money. This Dubai trip, financed by a foreign government with only the sketchiest details released about your travel itinerary, is the worst kind of junket.
You have done no better than Williams, and probably worse, on disclosing the financial details and dollar amount involved in your travel arrangements to Dubai. And David Nakamura reported in a blog post last week that not only did the United Arab Emirates give money directly to the District, but that this wasn’t even the first time—-the District took a donation from China in connection to your Olympic trip!
The money matters. As Fisher has already pointed out, if the UAE hadn’t picked up the tab for your trip, would it have been easier for you to skip that tennis tournament that caused you so many problems? LL asked you after the event today if you felt obligated to attend the tournament. You said: “I feel like I’m a free person. I can decide whatever I want whenever I want. So, yes, I feel like it was my decision to make.”
Maybe so, but given the money that exchanged hands and the secrecy thus far afforded that transaction, it’s a lot harder to take that at face value. You have promised a full report, to be completed by Attorney General Peter Nickles; LL looks forward to reviewing it.
It would be nice if that report were accompanied by a commitment to greater transparency in these matters in the future, but that doesn’t look likely.
You have preached transparency in government since entering public service. You did it again in your remarks today. But your approach to foreign travel has been perfectly opaque. The Dubai trip was never announced by your office, and when LL asked mayoral aides, he was told you were “away with your family”—-implying this was a personal vacation. Williams, for all his international travels, never made a big secret of it; his office typically posted his schedule during said international junkets.
LL asked you this afternoon why you didn’t announce the trip ahead of time. “It just hasn’t been our practice,” you said, and when LL asked if you’d commit to making it your practice, you refused. Your explanation for that: “Again, it hasn’t been my practice. We have a public schedule and the public schedule has items that are open to the public to come to. I do an enormous amount of things with the D.C. government that aren’t on the public schedule.”
LL went on to point out Williams’ rather low standards of transparency on foreign travel, then asked why you couldn’t even match that.
“I’m a different person,” you said.
Yep, but certainly not the “different person” you said you were during your campaign.