Omar Karim Gets Heated on Kojo
Embattled developer Omar Karim, in a rare appearance, submitted to journalists' questions today on WAMU's Politics Hour.
Under fire for his ties to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Karim answered questions from hosts Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood with thinly veiled outrage. Karim defended his own credentials and the record of his firm, Banneker Ventures, with an emphasis on the "defensive."
At one point, Sherwood asked to what LL's ears seemed to be a legitimate question: Name development projects you began or completed before Fenty became mayor. His initial response: "For you to ask me that is very insulting." He kept up with the bluster until finally naming a completed Silver Spring office project, as well as another project that's yet to move to construction.
Karim went on to deny aspects of a Washington Post story. In particular, megadeveloper R. Donahue Peebles therein accused Karim of approaching him at a 2007 event and telling him that "if I wanted to get to do a development deal with the District of Columbia government under Fenty, I'd have to do business with them and their circle...Essentially, the message was I was going to need him."
Karim denied the encounter ever took place, raised questions about Peebles' historical ties to Mayor Marion Barry, and in fact said he was considering filing a libel suit against Peebles. He went on to equate his ties to the mayor to certain D.C. councilmembers' apparent conflicts of interest.
But Karim made it clear he had another motive for coming on the radio: His own bottom line.
A project he's currently developing is in danger, he said, due to politics. Banneker had been selected by Metro to develop a parcel at 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW into a mixed-use project called "The Jazz @ Florida Avenue." That deal is now in jeopardy, he says, because the Metro board is refusing to extend a deadline to finalize its terms—a deadline that's already been extended twice, not unusual in a historically tight credit market.
He implied that his current notoriety has interfered with the deal, and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, a member of the Metro board, is behind it. Graham told Washington Business Journal in September: "I know that the developer is dealing with a recovering real estate market, but we either have to move forward now, or take another look at who will do this job."
File photo by Darrow Montgomery