Anacostia Eviction Battle: The Salvation Army, a Former Mayoral Candidate, and the Shadow Campaign?
A battle is brewing over an Anacostia health center facing eviction—and it appears to involve an alleged central figure in the so-called "shadow campaign" to help elect Mayor Vince Gray.
The fight is between the Spirit Fitness Health and Wellness Center and the Salvation Army. Rev. Willie Wilson, the president of Spirit and a senior pastor at Anacostia's Union Temple Baptist Church, alleges that the Salvation Army is unfairly evicting Spirit from its 2300 Martin Luther King Ave. SE building. Wilson, a 2002 mayoral candidate, claims in a press release that the Salvation Army is not abiding by its agreement to lower the rent if Spirit can't afford to pay the full rent, and that when Spirit proposed a new agreement in October, the Salvation Army did not respond and then moved to evict Spirit without notice. The court eviction hearing is set for Monday.
"The Salvation Army’s action is stark exploitation and deception," Wilson says in the release.
But the Salvation Army tells a very different story. Lewis Reckline, the national capital area commander of the Salvation Army, says his organization signed a lease with Spirit in 2009 that charged Spirit no rent or fees for the first year, and subsequently a reduced rent of about $530 per month, plus maintenance, parking, and real estate taxes. Reckline says Spirit is in arrears of about $160,000 as a result of incomplete payment of the $8,500 monthly maintenance fee. The court summons alleges that Spirit failed to pay $157,635.79 between Dec. 1, 2010 and Nov. 1, 2012.
Reckline says the Salvation Army did respond to Spirit's proposal, which he says was for a 10-year lease. "We opted not to engage in a 10-year lease because they were already in arrears at that time." As for Wilson's claim that the Salvation Army had agreed to lower the rent if Spirit couldn't pay, Reckline says, "That's not correct."
Wilson announced his intention to hold a rally today to protest the eviction. But when I reached him by phone, he said the protest was canceled.
"There’s been a little activity today, so we’re not going to do anything today," he said. When I asked what kind of activity, he responded, "Doing a little discussing, a little talking, you know." He declined to say with whom he was doing the discussing. The Salvation Army's Dale Bannon says that Spirit's legal counsel has been in contact with the Salvation Army's legal counsel today.
I asked Wilson about Reckline's statements regarding the lease with Spirit. "What I said, I stand by everything that I said," Wilson responded. "This project started almost seven years ago, and they have changed personnel several times, and everybody is not aware of everything that was going on."
At that point, he said he couldn't discuss the matter any further. "My attorney advised me not to say anything else today," he said.
Wilson is listed as the president of Spirit on filings to the D.C. government in 2009 and 2010, but when I asked him if he was president, he said he couldn't answer that question.
But the story appears to go beyond Wilson and the Salvation Army to include an alleged key player in what federal prosecutors call the "shadow campaign" to help Gray get elected. Vernon Hawkins, an alleged coordinator of the shadow campaign, is listed as Spirit's treasurer on a 2009 nonprofit corporation filing to the D.C. government, and he was present at multiple meetings between Spirit and the Salvation Army, according to Reckline and Bannon, including a Nov. 1 meeting to discuss Spirit's eviction.
"He has always been introduced to us as the chief operating officer of the church," says Bannon. Wilson denied that Hawkins was the church's chief operating officer.
Reckline says that the Salvation Army wanted to lease to a nonprofit tenant, which he initially believed Spirit was. "We were under the assumption that Spirit was a nonprofit organization," Reckline says. "We have since found out that Spirit is a for-profit company. Which leads us to believe that we were misled from the beginning."
The Salvation Army does not operate the building at a profit; "if everything’s paid across the board, it would break even," Reckline says. The other tenants are Pepco and two nonprofits, the Southeast Children's Fund and So Others Might Eat.
"We would like to continue on with another nonprofit health and wellness program in the community," says Reckline.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery