The Curious History of Bruce Bereano
Sometimes when you’re constructing a profile of a political figure, you end up with too much material, great quotes and stories that there’s no room to use. In last week’s profile of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray’s mayoral candidacy, there was plenty that sat unused, from how Gray’s deliberative, process-oriented nature extends down to prom-dress shopping outings for his daughter to how my ice cream interview with the chairman apparently ruined an Obama family excursion to Thomas Sweet in Georgetown. (I did blog that, however.)
One story I had hoped to tell in greater depth was that of Bruce Bereano, Gray's old fraternity brother friend from the chairman's days at George Washington University. Bereano is known as Annapolis’ first "million-dollar lobbyist," a powerful Maryland rainmaker who was convicted of federal mail-fraud charges back in the 1990s related to campaign finance scheme involving his lobbying clients. He served a 10-month sentence and was disbarred in both Maryland and the District. Despite a federal rap sheet, Bereano remains one of the most powerful and effective lobbyists in Maryland.
In an interview, Gray said his friendship with Bereano was forged in the battle to break the color barrier in GW’s fraternities. (Gray was the first African American in the university fraternities. Bereano, who is white, was his big brother in Tau Epsilon Phi.) In regard to Bereano’s legal troubles back in the 1990s, Gray told me he “never understood what that was all about.”
In the process of putting together my profile, Bereano’s name came up in a number of off-the-record conversations. But nobody wanted to publicly label Bereano as “Gray’s own frat boy crony,” a retort to the Gray’s camp regular chiding Mayor Adrian Fenty and his accused “cronies,” like Sinclair Skinner, Omar Karim and Ron Moten, the Peaceoholics founder who himself has mentioned "Bruce Banero" in some of his own attacks on Gray.
There’s an interesting history of Gray and Bereano that I wish I had more time (and space) to dive into in the process of putting my Gray profile together. Bereano is a legendary figure in Maryland political circles, and was just last week described as a “jolly good felon and back-slapping State House lobbyist” in a Baltimore Sun column about his infamous driving habits.
He’s also been busy, recently, testifying against a bill before the Baltimore County Council that would ban convicted felons from being allowed to lobby or hold contracts with the county. He’s been lobbying against a ban on minors from using indoor tanning facilities in the county.
While trying to boil what I knew down into a backgrounder paragraph for my Gray profile, I mistakenly flubbed a key detail about Bereano, which I’ve since corrected online. While Bereano has not donated any money as an individual to the Gray mayoral campaign, according to D.C. Office of Campaign Finance records through the June 10 reporting deadline, the “Office of Bruce Bereano” has donated $2,000, which is something I missed because it was listed in a different database. There's no unified search function on the records that allows you to find both individuals and corporate entities, even on the "advanced search" page. But I should have searched both separately. Mea culpa. (Last week, when I asked Gray if Bereano would be assisting in the mayoral campaign, the chairman did not want to comment.)
The only record of an individual donation from Bereano this election cycle turns up is a donation for Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh's re-election effort. When I asked Cheh about Bereano’s $500 contribution, the councilmember initially did not know who he was, but later said he had lobbied her office. The Office of Bruce Bereano has also contributed $500 to At-Large Councilmember David Catania's re-election efforts this year.
So why is this Bereano guy important? His Rolodex is deep and has helped Gray on previous campaigns. And the Gray campaign will need all the help it as it faces down Fenty’s enormous war chest in the last few weeks before the primary.
Back in 2004, when Gray was trying to unseat Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, Bereano penned a fundraising appeal for Gray. While it’s not out of the ordinary for an old friend to write such a letter , Maryland good government watchdogs were irked because the letter invoked the name of Gray’s cousin, Del. James Proctor, Jr., a powerful member of the Appropriations Committee. While it’s illegal for Maryland lobbyists to raise money for lawmakers, it's legal to raise funds for their out-of-state family members.
Bereano public persona is one of that’s hard-charging, big shouldered, which makes for an interesting pairing with Gray’s careful, deliberate, consensus-building persona. It’s definitely worth a closer examination.