The Washington Post has called for the resignation of yet another member of the D.C. Council. And who is the Post going after this time?
Is it the longest serving member of the council, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who chairs the all-important Finance and Revenue Committee while also earning a salary of $190,000 from the elite lobbying firm Patton Boggs? Nope. Despite overseeing deals that have placed a couple billion taxpayer dollars into private pockets, including those belonging to a client of his firm, the Post won’t say Jack about Evans.
And surprisingly, unlike in the past, this time the target of the Post’s ire isn’t a councilmember whose base of support comes from the African American community.
Instead, the Post is fixated on removing Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham who is consistently one of the Council’s most progressive voices. Originally from Scotland, Graham’s parents emigrated to Hyattsville, Maryland when he was eight. While neither of his parents finished high school, Graham excelled, attending college and then law school. He went on to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, and worked as a staff attorney with the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by former Senator Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut. Upon leaving the employ of the federal government, Graham “came out” and declared he was gay.
But it was Graham’s work in the community, not on the Hill, that allowed him to knock off an incumbent, Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, in 1998. For 15 years, from 1984-1999, Graham served as executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which became a model for the nation under his watch. He led the clinic at a time when the response to the HIV/AIDS outbreak was slow despite the disease’s devastating impact. “It was the most difficult period that I’ve ever been through, there’s no question,” Graham recalled. “I went to dying people to straighten out their legal affairs… in addition to other duties. It carried me right into the trenches.”
And Graham’s back in the trenches once again, but this time because of the Post which has run a series of editorials attacking him and recently called for his resignation. The Post’s case rests on two unrelated deals in which Graham may have offered his conditional support for one if the bidder dropped out of the other.
One was a real estate deal that involved several parcels of land located in Ward 1 along Florida Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW. WMATA (Metro) was looking to sell these parcels in 2008 while Graham sat on the WMATA board. Graham told businessman Warren Williams that he didn’t support his real estate and construction firm’s bid to develop the property. That firm, Banneker Ventures, was led by fraternity brothers of former mayor Adrian Fenty, grew rapidly with Fenty in office, and ultimately was the subject of a Council investigation. According to the Post, Graham told Williams that if Banneker dropped out of the Florida Avenue deal, Graham would support a bid for the lottery contract from a team that included Williams. Graham denies wrongdoing and said his actions amounted to “sharp elbowed political behavior,” no more.
Now to be fair, Graham may have had good reason for wielding sharp elbows. Several years ago, an underground campaign sought to portray the councilmember as Grahamzilla, a devil-horned plantation owner and pedophile. A series of cartoons were plastered throughout Ward 1, including one that had a caricature of Graham in the foreground with a black man being lynched in the background. Graham believes Sinclair Skinner, an associate of Williams, was responsible for the cartoons, a charge which Skinner and Williams deny. But there’s good reason for Graham to feel as he does.
In October, WMATA weighed in on Graham’s role in the Florida Avenue deal. WMATA’s report, which cost taxpayers $800,000, concluded that Graham’s actions violated WMATA’s code of conduct, but found no violations of law. A subsequent report by D.C.’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability went further, saying Graham violated D.C. Code, but the newly created board ultimately dismissed the investigation because it lacked jurisdiction since the incident took place five years ago, before the board and relevant statues were in place.
Having failed to get Graham via WMATA or the Board of Ethics, the Post is now looking to the D.C. Council and it warned Council chairman Phil Mendelson that he better act swiftly. ”There’s been no comment from Mr. Mendelson, but he can’t stay mute forever. If the chairman and other council members register no objection to Mr. Graham’s behavior, they will be condoning it and thereby become complicit in the disgrace,” wrote the Post.
Without missing a beat, Tommy Wells, the Ward 6 councilmember and likely mayoral candidate, followed up the Post’s editorial by calling on Mendelson to form an ad-hoc committee to look into “evidence of a violation of the code of conduct and make recommendations for further action.” Graham responded, saying, “I think you know that Wells is running for mayor and he’s got one eye on the Washington Post editorial board.”