The Secret to Jim Graham's Political Survival The Ward 1 councilmember holds on despite a brutal year.

The Bow Ties Have It: Jim Graham had a tough year, but competitors are getting little traction.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

The last year has not been great for Jim Graham.

As Metro’s board chairman, the Ward 1 D.C. councilmember became one of the most public faces of a dysfunctional transit system that couldn’t seem to move passengers around without killing them or its employees.

Back at the Wilson Building, Graham’s former chief of staff, Ted Loza, got popped by the feds in September for allegedly trying to take a pathetically small $1,500 bribe in exchange for pushing legislation to benefit cab drivers. (Loza has maintained his innocence. Graham says he knew nothing about alleged bribes, and he hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing).

Pouring salt in the wounds: a brutal exposé in this paper that detailed the extremely close relationship Graham had with Loza—including the creepy detail that the councilmember paid for one of Loza’s love interests to have an abortion.

At least one incumbent usually loses their council seat in each D.C. election cycle. Based on his recent turns in the media, you’d think this would be Graham’s turn.

Yet less than a month before election day, he seems to be doing just fine. He’s raised more than double what his two opponents combined have raised. The money, among other things, has enabled Graham to commission a poll—conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake—that showed him cruising along with 68 percent while his rivals languish in the single digits. (Lake’s reputation took a beating last winter when she helped client Martha Coakley lose Edward Kennedy’s deep-blue U.S. Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown.)

Still, neither of Graham’s opponents, Jeff Smith and Bryan Weaver, seem to be building much momentum. So just what does it take to beat a guy in this town?

A common handicap among incumbent councilmembers over the last decade is that they got reputations for being complacent, in contrast to energetic-looking new competitors. In a city with few major ideological divisions, hard work—or at least a reputation for hard work—becomes the deciding factor. Mayor Adrian Fenty got his political start by simply outworking Charlene Drew Jarvis in Ward 4. Hizzoner’s current challenger, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, won his seat on the council by saying his Ward 7 predecessor Kevin Chavous was similarly out to lunch.

The longer you serve in office, the harder it becomes to hold on. “People thought I had lost touch, and clearly I had,” Chavous says.

But for all of his troubles, Graham is someone you’d have a hard time casting as a slacker. He says he’s worked 12-hour days “everyday except Sunday” during his dozen years as a councilmember. And, he notes, he doesn’t have an outside job so he can be totally devoted to the council. (Being a councilmember is technically a part-time gig, and some members like Jack Evans and Mary Cheh keep their day jobs.)

Graham says Jarvis’ and Chavous’ fate won’t be his own. “They fell into a trap, they fell into several traps,” he tells Loose Lips. “First, they underestimated their opponents, which I have not done. Then, they were overconfident of their own chances, which I resist every single day.”

Apparently, resisting overconfidence is a tough job: “All I have [to] do is walk around and know how much I’m appreciated,” Graham says. “I don’t let that go to my head, and I know that I can’t take anything for granted.”

Voters who don’t have time to experience the appreciation by ambling around town with Graham can see for themselves: His campaign website has a picture of Graham standing next to the more than 6,000 thank-you letters he’s received from his constituents

And when Graham says he doesn’t take his opponents lightly, he means it. Poll results notwithstanding, the Graham campaign dug into Smith’s and Weaver’s pasts and provided LL with little tidbits of opposition research. In Smith’s case, it involved a couple of run-ins with the law that never resulted in serious convictions.

In Weaver’s case, it was a $1,000 grant that Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C—which Weaver serves on—approved in 2004 for a non-profit he runs. Weaver recused himself on the discussion and vote over the grant, ANC minutes show, and Weaver says the money was used to buy supplies, including Spanish-English dictionaries and Rigoberta Menchú books, for the at-risk youth he takes to Guatemala. Weaver adds he’s never drawn a salary from the non-profit organization.

“I’ve tried to stay above all of this,” Graham says. “But the fact of the matter is, there is a record here that needs to be examined... People should know who they are voting for.”

A former aide to Sen. Paul Wellstone and a longtime Ward 1 community activist who’s served seven years on the ANC, Weaver says he’s running because the city needs a councilmember who’s more devoted to playing a stronger role overseeing city services and agencies like Metro. “I really just view that Councilmember Graham has punted on oversight and responsibilities,” he says. The city’s ethics laws need an overhaul, too, he says, because Graham’s large number of corporate donations give the appearance of “pay to play” politics.

Smith, who served as a school board member from 2005 to 2007, has tried to make the city’s education reform efforts a central part of his campaign. Despite multiple attempts he couldn’t be reached by deadline, but on WAMU-FM’s Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, he said he’s running to take care of the two major concerns Ward 1 residents have: “They want to be safe and they want to live in a neighborhood where they can be proud about the schools.”

Even if the challengers say they’ll be more industrious than the incumbent, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be as devoted as Graham to one thing: Personally spinning their own political images. When The Washington Post’s Paul Schwartzman wrote about Graham earlier this month, Graham declined to be interviewed for that article—but called and e-mailed Schwartzman’s editors to complain that questions Schwartzman posed to others suggested an anti-Graham bias.

Graham now says he was “pleased” with the final story—though it would have been unfair “but for my intervention.” Post enterprise editor Marc Fisher says Graham complained “incessantly” about the piece for a solid month before it ran, to anyone at the newspaper who would listen. But Fisher denies that any punches were pulled due to Graham’s complaints.

As it happens, Graham also called LL and LL’s boss to pre-complain before the first word of this story you’re reading now was written. What concerned Graham, he says, were reports that some “bitter” former staff members were speaking ill of him.

Which is probably a valid concern, given that some of his former staffers are now working for his opponents. Denise Wiktor, who worked for Graham for four years, is Smith’s top campaign aide. She says Graham treats people who aren’t loyal to him “very badly.” (Another Weaver-supporting ex-aide echoed the complaint, but only after insisting on anonymity—which isn’t a great sign of confidence in Graham’s vulnerability).

But in the small world of D.C. politics, it’s no surprise that the sort of people who’d run a campaign might have had first-hand experience in the ward—which, for the past 12 years, would have meant working for Graham. “You’re bound to have a couple of people who had unhappy experiences who have become bitter, for whatever reason,” Graham says.

What’s more surprising is the identity of one ex-staffer who’s apparently still part of the campaign mix: Loza. Most pols would have bought their legally embattled former chiefs a one-way ticket to Antarctica. But according to Ernesto Giron, who runs the Adams Morgan restaurant Churreria Madrid, Loza came in recently and badgered Giron’s wife about the restaurant displaying a Weaver sign instead of a Graham sign. Giron says Loza’s message to his wife was clear: “It wasn’t a good idea to go with the losing team, it’s not a good idea to make an enemy out of Jim Graham.” Loza couldn’t be reached for comment. (Hedging political bets seems common in D.C.: Quite a few Ward 1 storefronts display all three candidate’s signs, and plenty of other businesses around the city have signs for both Vincent Gray and Adrian Fenty for mayor.)

Graham says Loza is not part of his campaign at all, and his former aide was only taking a sign to Giron’s wife because she supported Graham, while her husband did not. Giron says that’s not the case, and his wife was upset by the visit. “Of course, she was going to agree to put a Graham sign up after she was told it’s not a good idea of making enemies of a Ward 1 representative,” Giron says. “But I told her this is not El Salvador in the ’80s. You can support [whichever] candidate you want.”

 

Mr. Brown, Tear Down That Wall

 

Take heed, Vincent Gray: You are not the only elected official to be caught breaking city regulations on home improvement.

Gray’s tortured quest to get a fence built on his property is well known by now. Less known is the fact that At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown, now running to succeed Gray as D.C. Council chairman, ran afoul of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in the summer of 2005, his first year on the council.

Records show Brown got a $500 ticket for replacing a retaining wall on his house without a permit in June 2005. Brown’s campaign spokesman James Jones says the wall in the councilmember’s Hillcrest home collapsed on a Friday, and Brown hired some guys to work on it over the weekend.

“It wasn’t the kind of thing where you didn’t want to just not do anything about it,” Jones says.

Brown was literally in line at the DCRA on the following Monday when he got a phone call telling him he’d been given a stop-work order, Jones says. So he promptly got a permit and paid the fine.

Brown has talked openly on the campaign trail about his run-in with DCRA, Jones says, adding that the ticket and fine were a result of “unfortunate timing.” And perhaps some politics.

“Usually DCRA is not that responsive,” Jones muses. “They can’t seem to find a way to close up abandoned houses or even find a way to identify abandoned houses around the city, but when Vince Gray or Kwame Brown does something, they seem to be very quick in reacting...I’m not saying that there was any conspiracy here or anything; I just think there was an inspector who was in the neighborhood.”

Jason Cherkis contributed to this story.

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Our Readers Say

The same thing that happened to Kwame Brown is the same thing that happened to me. I had a retaining wall that needed repairing after heavy rains. Mine began to fall apart late one evening. The next morning I hired a repair crew to keep my entire backyard winding up in the alley. I wasn't even thinking about having to get a permit to repair an existing wall. A DCRA inspector who was inspecting another property told me that I needed to cease work until I could get a permit. How this city operates is crazy. They surely don't make it easy to be a homeowner in the district. Wish they would target the vacant houses and not the the ones residents live in. A little common sense would go a long way with DCRA.
So ex-LL James Jones is saying that Anthony Williams was going after Kwame back in 2005 for his wall? Maybe Kwame should be asking why his neighbors ratted him out to The Man.

And Jim Graham is the embodiment of a political whore; the man believes in nothing other than himself.
Another City Paper article slamming Jim Graham. How original.

How many times can you recycle a tired storyline that obviously has no impact on public opinion?

Meanwhile, take one look around formerly blighted neighborhoods or one stroll at night down streets that were formerly frightening, you'll see why people respect Jim Graham and are about to return him to office for another term.

Results.
I worked for Jim Graham for 13 years at Whitman Walker Clinic; (WWC) Jim was the brain that created the WWC Office on Latino Services who served before extinction hundreds of HIV clients in their own language, and with cultural competency. - with little funding from the city, Jim allocated WWC funds to make sure the Office had the stature to proper served Latinos/as with dignity and respect.

For this and for many years of friendship but most of all for his total commitment to the Latino community. I fully support Jim

Frank Yurrita
Ex-Director WWC Office on Latino Services
Interim Director Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs
I had written something more poetic but it got lost in the send. I am not bitter (such a tired statement) but perhaps some of the 100 plus other former employees are. I tried to talk to Jim about concerns I had well before Jeff announced his candidacy. Concerns about the damage Loza was doing to people, concerns about the schools chancellor and the fact the Office of veterans affairs is a shambles. He was completely unwilling to hear anything negative about Ted, as he always has been. In my intitial interview he once told me he would not ask me to do anything illegal or immoral. He broke that by asking me in my subsequent job to issue a permit for which there was no legal basis and the Public space committee later. while I am sorry for the relationship I lost with him, I cannot support someone who has lost his moral compass. My daughter who has known him since she was 18 months and he has been quite generous with adored him and was supporting him even if I wasn't but changed her mind after he went ballistic on me in front of her. A loss for both of them.
Oops partial sentence. the Public Space committee denied the permit.
City Paper, that poll is more than three months old, and while Jim Graham and his cronies will continue to think he will cruise to re-election, both Weaver and Smith are talking to concerned voters about the direction of the Ward and the fact that Jim Graham has become all about Jim Graham. Mr. Giron's story says it all, not that much really needs to be said after the appalling story that voters NEED to keep in mind about how Jim Graham turned a blind eye to his sleazy CoS Ted Loza's abuse of his pregnant girlfriend (having a wife a kids at home - wow, Loza is a stand up guy!). Jim not only paid for her abortion on his credit card but he could have cared less about how Loza was abusing her as long as he did on his own time. Wake up WARD ONE! Jim Graham is a SLEAZE and we deserve better!!!
It is a tragedy that the bilious windbag Jeff Smith is staying in this race blunting the chances of Weaver ousting Jim "Taxi Cash" "AIDS Grift" Graham. Anyone who doesn't believe that Graham has profitted personally from he and Loza's many shenanigans knows nothing about Grahams tenure looting Whitman Walker. Even the furniture in his office is graft.
Unfortunately, the press places this in the context of CM Graham, vs. in the context of the health and vibrancy of Ward 1 and city. Basically since 2004 the Ward has progressed in spite of CM Grahams actions not so much because of them. Unfortunately, campaigns and coverage are so about personalities the than issues that really make a difference in folks lives. A review of the LaCase Shelter near 14th and Irving tells the real story more so than the Loza story.
You've got to be kidding! Intimidating restaurant owners for a freak’n sign. What next? Will they “ask” small business owners to contribute to their campaign or else? Just imagine what these guys are willing to do when the stakes are higher. And that’s the best opposition research these guys can come up with…a couple of altercations with the law and $1,000 grant that was dispersed legally and ethically, compared to his administration’s documented shameless offenses, please no contest! LL was that something Graham’s bitchn forced you to do…include a couple of petty shots at his opponents?
Jim Graham is into sodomy. He has the nerve to talk about Jeff Smith's run in with the law. How low can you get to lay down with the same sex - this type of behavior is below rocks and dirt and animal like behavior. Sodomy is against all three religions Christians,Judaism and Islam.

Grahams background is filthy. I rather vote for a candidate with a criminal background that has a less serious felony conviction than than a low life sodomite like Graham. I would not trust him around young men and little boys.

Graham take a look at your lack of morality before you attack Smith.
Seems like Kwame can't stay out of trouble. I wonder which developer fixed his wall and which contract did he promise to give them. We should probably just look at his campaign finance reports and see which major developer did not give...that's who got the contract!

Why can't people see how simple-minded Kwame is? First he can't pay his bills, then he buys a boat/motorcycle/mercedes/escalade, then he gets sued by another credit card company, then he doesn't pay his parking tickets, next up is a fine for illegal construction - all of that is the public record - what does the private record look like?

Why is this loser still in the race for Chairman? Who votes for someone with this type of character and if you do, what does that say about your character?

WAKE UP!!! We are talking about a $10,000,000,000 spending account - who would give the pin number to that account to someone with that much fiscal irresponsibility?
From your article, it seems like both Smith and Weaver are more concerned about city-wide issues than Ward 1 issues. Why don't they run for at-large? If you're running for Ward 1, your job is to represent Ward 1. Sure, you can attend to city-wide issues, but those issues are not why Ward 1 voters will vote for you.
@foldingtime I disagree, oversight is the job. If you have oversight of an agency such as Metro then you have to think system wide and not just Ward One.
@Ustreet
Quite right. But I just don't think that many (or even any) people vote based upon "oversight." Other than for at-large Councilmembers, people vote based upon what the candidate does for their Ward.
When Candidate Jim Graham first ran 12 years ago, he unseated Councilman Frank Smith largely by saying that that Mr. Smith had been there too long and was stale. Mr. Smith was completing 16 years when he was unseated. Perhaps Mr. Graham doesn't realize that his asking the voters for 4 more years will put him in jeopardy of being in the Council too long and getting stale.

In reality, he's already stale, and some of the deals he's made as our councilmember stink. True, Council member Graham has helped a lot of people. He's a great guy. He's a lovable guy. That's only one side; everyone has two sides, some more balanced than others. Just as lovable as the councilman is, he is abusive and unlovable. Graham's staff and ex-staff talk about how he unleashes on them. He unleashed on Denise in front of her child. I mean, isn't character important in an election?

The longer you stay in office the more you compromise to get the money it takes to stay in office. There are no more Senator Proxmires.
Is it proper and ethical for Frank Yurrita to be weighing in as he does here?

Two, isn't there a fourth candidate for Ward One? Marc Morgan. Why do we never hear about him?
What's the latest with Ted Loza? Is he still collecting a city paycheck and telling everyone how life is good?
The notion that Jim Graham is ‘holding on’ may well be an illusion, especially if you’ve paid any attention at all to the street presence and mobilization capacity of the excellent campaign Jeff Smith has been running for the past six months.

As a young gay man and resident of the D.C. Metro Area since 2005, I admire the iconic Jim Graham and understand his extensive record of public service as broadly beneficial for the dynamic and rich community I see now flourishing in much of Ward 1.

But Graham has been in power for nearly 12 years. Meanwhile, economic and social disparities have been on a vertiginous rise in D.C. In sight of Graham’s support for sweetheart deals for well-heeled condominium developers, his acquiescence in the Taylorization of the Public Schools, and his belated attention to the profound needs of the neglected Georgia Avenue corridor, my feelings toward Graham become more complicated.

What Ward 1 deserves now is a representative whose practical commitment to constituent services is founded on a broad vision of social and economic progress for all. Jeff Smith, I believe, distinguishes himself as just such a leader, and I hope Loose Lips and its readers might finally give his excellent campaign the serious attention it has long deserved.

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