Loose Lips

To the Losers Go the Spoils

Fenty Campaign Aides Get City Jobs Before Hiring Freeze

It’s common practice in American politics to reward campaign workers on winning campaigns with government jobs in a new administration. “To the victor go the spoils,” as former Mayor for Life Marion Barry is fond of saying.

In most places, for the campaign workers on the losing team, it’s tough luck; their consolation prize is the fond memories of having busted their humps for a defeated cause, with maybe a few T-shirts and other trinkets thrown in.

Fortunately for Still Mayor Adrian Fenty’s team, the District isn’t most places.

Several workers from Fenty’s failed re-election bid were given well-paying city jobs soon after the Sept. 14 primary—and shortly before the mayor ordered a citywide hiring freeze to help bridge a $175 million budget gap, campaign and city payroll records show.

Loose Lips found at least five former Fenty campaign workers who were hired by the District in the week before the mayor ordered a freeze. No one LL talked with knew exactly how many had gotten in under the wire; one source guessed as high as 15. A detailed records request is pending. Regardless, those hired say they’re qualified for their new jobs (which, as politically appointed positions, will only last until Fenty’s term is over) and that they’re workers the mayor knows and trusts to do their new city jobs effectively during the last few months of his tenure.

That’s certainly one way to look at it. A more cynical view (this is LL, after all) is that some favored campaign aides are being rewarded at the taxpayers’ expense, at a time when the cash-strapped city can’t afford such generosity.

Most new hires were brought on board between Sept. 27 and Sept. 29, records show. On Sept. 27, the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, told city officials the District was about to start its new fiscal year already $175 million in the hole. In response, Almost Mayor Vincent Gray called for a freeze on hiring and promoting city workers. Fenty ordered a hiring freeze on Oct. 4.

What looks a little worse: The Fenty administration fired some city workers right after the primary and replaced them with campaign aides who were seen as more loyal to their cause. What looks a lot worse: some of the new hires have ties to Fenty’s friend Sinclair Skinner, a failed dry cleaner under investigation for winning city engineering contracts, allegedly thanks to his friendship with Fenty.

Who got the new jobs may have come down to how hard they worked on behalf of their boss’s campaign. Former and current city staffers say certain people in the mayor’s office exerted strong pressure throughout the primary season to help Fenty’s re-election effort and kept close tabs on who was spending their free time volunteering and who was not. Several sources report hearing rumors of a list the Fenty folks kept of who was a “team player”—and who was not.

“You would get the understanding that even though it’s considered volunteering, it’s almost considered mandatory volunteering, which sounds like an oxymoron,” says one source, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal from the Fenty administration.

Joseph Martin, who is the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C chairman and worked in city government since just before Fenty’s term started, was fired three days after the election.

Martin, who had worked for the last several months in the mayor’s office on volunteerism, says he showed up for work the week of the election and was almost immediately told by his shaking and clearly upset boss, Tracy Sandler, to hand over his city-owned BlackBerry and ID card, pack up his things and exit the building. Sandler couldn’t be reached for comment. (Fun fact: Besides working for the D.C. government, Sandler’s résumé also includes voice-over acting, including as the voice of Barbie.)

“It was incredibly cruel,” Martin tells LL, though he says dismissals like that were pretty common during Fenty’s term. (Martin says he once saw one unaware former employee come back from vacation to find her replacement working at her desk.)

Asked why he thinks he was let go, Martin says one of the reasons could be that he wasn’t considered a “team player.” “There was this desire to move people into government jobs who had worked on the campaign,” Martin says.

Martin was replaced almost immediately by Fenty campaign aide Pascale Michele, who came on board Sept. 27. Michele was listed as a “consultant” in campaign finance disclosure forms, and paid $35,500. Her current city salary is $75,000 a year—the same as Martin’s. Several sources say Michele is close to Skinner, though LL heard varying accounts about the details of their relationship. Michele did not respond to requests for comment.

Another new hire is Tim White, who was paid $15,776 for working on the Fenty campaign. He started a new job on Sept. 28, as a “special assistant” with the mayor’s office at a salary of $66,150 a year, payroll records show. He also once worked with Skinner; during public testimony this April, Skinner said White was an independent contractor who worked as a project manager for Skinner’s engineering firm. White could not be reached for comment.

Fenty’s Ward 4 campaign coordinator, Josh Lopez, took a program analyst position at the deputy mayor’s office of planning and development on Sept. 27. His predecessor had stopped volunteering on the Fenty campaign for health reasons, and had been fired three days after the election.

Fenty spokesman Sean Madigan, who returned to the administration after a campaign post, says Lopez was hired to be an outreach coordinator for a public housing initiative. Lopez says he worked in a similar capacity for a non-profit from 2007 to 2009, and was brought on board to ensure a smooth transition for an important initiative. That may not be his only qualification: Lopez gained mild notoriety during the campaign for disrupting a Gray event with a bullhorn. He’s reportedly very close with Skinner.

Lopez quit the $72,000-a-year city job after only four days—to volunteer for a Fenty write-in campaign that the mayor is not supporting. He says he plans on donating the four days worth of city pay, which totals roughly $1,100, to charity. Lopez doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation, saying it’s normal for politicians to hire people they know and trust.

One new hire, Ian Conyers, graduated from Georgetown this year. He worked as a canvasser for the Fenty campaign, but he says his experience doing community outreach made him a good fit with his new city job as a constituent services representative for Ward 6—a position that had been vacant for several months prior to the election. Another constituent services worker, Louis Davis, started his job two days after Fenty ordered the hiring freeze. Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson says Davis was offered a job in September, but couldn’t start until later.

The Fenty administration also gave a $5,000 raise to campaign spokeswoman Helen Hare, when she returned to her city writer/editor job after the campaign. Hare’s public salary went from $45,000 a year to $70,000 a year in less than 16 months, with six months off working for the campaign, payroll records show.

If Fenty had won, all this might be business as usual. But he didn’t, and it’s clear from how Fenty has operated in the month after the primary that the mayor doesn’t actually need any new staff to run the city. Fenty has had virtually no public appearances since he lost (he missed one news conference because, his aide said, he was stuck in traffic), and staff say he’s been a rare sight at the Wilson Building.

Fenty also appears to be focused on deciding what his next gig is going to be, saying he wants to “hit the ground running” when his term ends on Jan. 2. Many interviewed for this story speculated that Fenty was unaware and uninterested in the recent rash of hirings and firings. The moves, they say, were made by some of his more powerful underlings.

But as much as Fenty might like to slink away quietly, he’s still the mayor of a city that has serious financial problems to deal with. And final responsibility for these last minute, unnecessary hirings—even if only temporary—lies with him.

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6951, 24 hours a day.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Miss Mary

    If Independents and Republicans want their voices heard in a general election, then they should recruit CREDIBLE repug or indie candidates who can potentially win a city wide election. It's not THAT difficult. See, e.g., Carol Schwarzt (who I voted for for mayor against Marion Barry back in the 90's), Dave Catania and Michael Brown. Even Statehood candidates have won elections in this city.

    Fenty is a DEMOCRAT who LOST the DEMOCRATIC primary. That's how it works. Even if by some fluke he wins a write-in election under these bizarre circumstances, he would have NO POLITICAL CAPITAL in which to govern. Fenty has clearly moved on. You should do the same and spend your time politically organizing with independent and repug. candidates instead of complaining.

    Someone made a comment about freedom of speech and others having opinions. One of the great things about living in America is being able to express yourselves. Thanks to political correctness, people are afraid to say or speak on how they feel in fear of being personal attacked. I admire WARD4NDC,ABF,the Force, NOODLEZ, etc. for speaking or sharing their opinion.

    I personally will be glad to see Peter Nickles and Mayor Fenty gone. It's time to move on people, 2011 will be here soon. Life is too short for foolishness or worrying about politicians. Most politicians are liars and don't work in the best interest of the citizenry. Get use to it!

  • Miss Mary

    WARD4NDC, I watched the link you provided on racism in Spanish speaking countries. It's sad, but I wasn't surprised. Many foreigners that come to the U.S. tend to look down on blacks. There are tensions between Central Americans and blacks in the District of Columbia as there are tensions with Central Americans and whites in the United States. Illegal immigration is a hot topic for most politicians and most will not touch this subject. Let's face if, the majority of illegals in the U.S. are Hispanic. Blacks and black neighborhoods are affected the most by the influx of illegals into our neighborhoods and in the job market.

    I didn't mean to go off topic by discussing illegal immigration.

  • KappaNupe

    Breaking News: Mayor Fenty ask his write in supporters to support Vincent Gray. Did you hear this Josh Lopez, Ellie Anderson, Muriel Bowser, and others?

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/debonis/2010/10/fenty_asks_write-in_supporters.html

    Vincent Gray will be the next mayor of the District of Columbia.

  • tired

    KappaNupe I am sorry but I don't trust Fenty he has lied so many times I will wait until Nov. 2. And if the Washington Post is involved I know it is not true.

  • KappaNupe

    I agree Tired. You are so right, King Fenty cannot be trusted. I will be voting early on Monday Oct. 18th at the Board of Elections.

  • KappaNupe

    This is a funny article to read about Ward 4 Muriel Bowser now endorsing King Adrian Fenty. This woman was a puppet during her entire tenure on the Council of the District of Columbia. Miss Mary, you are correct about politics being dirty and corrupted.

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/Final-2-council-members-now-in-Gray_s-corner-1229587-105069094.html

  • Joseph Martin

    Final Note: Ayana Rockett was and is wonderful and remains a friend. She is a lovely woman who has gone on to graduate school. She was among those fired - with no notice. Ayana recommended that I be hired by Tara Jones and Robert Bobb and asked me to apply for the Ward 1 neighborhood services coordinator.

    Councilmember Fenty and his staff impressed me with their dedication, access and responsiveness when I first moved to Petworth in August, 2003. At the time, my recycling was not getting picked up - repeatedly. Will Singer of his staff was my first contact and always so helpful. In time, I got to know the entire staff and then CM Fenty.

    As a "lowly, unpaid ANC Commissioner" (as I termed myself, I quickly found - during the Williams' years - several key figures to be very responsive to me personally with neighborhood issues. That list includes Bill Howland (DPW Director), Dan Tangherlini (DDOT Director), Patrick Canavan (DCRA Director).

    Merrit Drucker, the Ward 4 Neighborhood Services Coordinator and Ayana Rockett, then his assistant, were also exceptional in every way.

    During this period, as I have noted, I worked in feature film, network television and photography. I had no intentions to work in the DC government, never imagined I would and I certainly never imagined I would actually get to know any DC mayor.

    Most important of all: Getting acquainted with an incredible range of people in this city. It was an honor to have so many guide me, educate me, inform me.

    I feel broadened in ways I never imagined. Doesn't get any better than that.

  • Sally

    I remember WARD4NDC when I worked near Howard. I always gave him a dollar when I walked past him b/c he was such a sad looking homeless man. I'm glad to see he's making great use of the free computers at the homeless shelter.

  • DaddyGraceFishSandwich

    Sally, why are you such a miserable and unhappy person? Is is because you don't have a man and can't get laid? I bet a homeless person can get some poontang quicker than you can. Continue to use your vibrator girlfriend because no man will never touch you. The House of Prayer has helped many homeless people and homelessness is nothing to joke about.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    LOL LOL LOL@DaddyGraceFishSandwich

    Reading your comment made me laugh so hard, I fell out of my computer chair.

  • Colombia Heights Resident

    Sally, when you worked near Howard University, were you a stripper? If so, you must have been the stripper with the Madea breasts working in the strip joint on Georgia Avenue, NW.

  • Colombia Heights Resident

    During my undergraduate days at North Carolina A&T State University, I had no interest to pledge or join a black Greek Fraternity.

    On the issue of Josh Lopez, this guy seem to have some issues with D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray being the mayor. One thing I've noticed about many of Fenty's young supporters, they too have no respect for their elders like Adrian Fenty. Mayor Fenty is a horrible person and he disrespected many people regardless of their race. Read comment below posted on the Washington Post blog.

    There is nothing slanderous about the truth. Josh Lopez has made the bed that he currently lies in. Everything I said above is 100% accurate and 100% provable with just a little research.

    I attended the Ward 5 town hall and witnessed the antics of Josh Lopez personally. He appeared a bit, touched, and I don't mean by an angel. It WAS Josh Lopez that called the Metropolitan Police Department after being escorted out for his outrageous behavior.

    He even demanded the police to arrest "someone" for assault. An assault that none of the hundreds in attendance witnessed. I tell you, the man's elevator just doesn't go all the way to the top floor.

    He has bigger fish to fry than working ANYONE's campaign. But it is right up his alley to work a campaign without a candidate.

    He is, in essence, Sarah Palin, without a true following.

    Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 15, 2010 3:35 PM

  • Colombia Heights Resident

    Correction:

    Josh Lopez seem to have some issues with D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray becoming the mayor of the District of Columbia. This write in campaign is a waste of time. Vincent Gray will be sworn in as our next mayor.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2010/08/17/fenty-on-peaceoholics-i-dont-need-any-statistics/#more-628 El Hombre Murciélago

    Fenty should go work for the Peaceoholics after he leaves office since he was so keen on pissing away millions of our tax dollars on them suggesting that others work with them. He should stick his shiny little hard head where his mouth is.

    “Instead of criticizing and trying to turn me against [Ron Moten and the Peaceoholics], why don’t you help them?” Fenty asks.

    (http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2010/08/17/fenty-on-peaceoholics-i-dont-need-any-statistics/#more-628)

    Re: he wants to “hit the ground running” when his term ends on Jan. 2.

  • Sally

    @DaddyGrace- Do you kiss your sons with that potty mouth of yours? Very shameful. But perfectly in keeping with your silly self.

  • Colombia Heights Resident

    Mayor Fenty states, he will not stop the troll and others from the write in campaign. I suspect, King Fenty was a part of this write in campaign from the very beginning.

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/2010/10/fenty_says_he_wont_personally.html

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com try2staysanendc

    Fenty is no doubt behind this write-in campaign. Can't seem to take the lost like a man. Sad

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    I voted today and the turnout was small at the Board of Election. I saw Josh Lopez outside with a table. There were Fenty signs all over the place.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    Josh Lopez was dressed in green today wearing a bow tie standing at his table in front of the Board of Elections at 441 4th Street, NW. He has a serious acne problem and he could use a good Dermatologist.

  • http://HOTMAIL.COM OBVIOUSLY NOT!

    I SEE THIS WHOLE SITUATION AS A PART OF THE PROBLEM THAT IS STARTING TO BECOME A REAL ISSUE IN THIS CITY. THE "NEWBIES" BLINDSPOT FOR ANY KIND OF CORRUPTION FOR THE FENTY CAMP. PEOPLE WANT THIS THING TO BECOME A BLACK AND WHITE ISSUE WHEN IT'S NOT. IT'S A CORRUPTION ISSUE. IT'S AN ARROGANCE ISSUE. IT'S A PETTY CULT OF PERONALITY ISSUE THAT IN FOUR YEARS DEPLETED THE CITY'S RAINY DAY FUND OF A BILLION DOLLARS. WHEN I WAS A KID COMING UP IN D.C. MARION BARRY COULD DO NO WRONG. EVERYBODY HEARD THE CORRUPTION AND WOMANIZING STORIES BUT IT WAS OKAY. THEN THE "THE BITCH SET HIM UP!!" AND IT WASN'T OKAY ANYMORE. THE CITY BECAME AN INTERNATIONAL LAUGHING STOCK. WHEN I VOTED IN THE PRIMARY I VOTED TO REMOVE A MAYOR THAT WAS ON HIS WAY TO BECOMING THE NEXT MARION BARRY/ MAYOR-FOR-LIFE/HIZZONER. MY DAD TOLD ME WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER THAT PEOPLE IN POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY HAVE TO AVOID EVEN THE APPEARANCE OF CORRUPTION. WITH FENTY IT WAS JUST TOO MANY PERCIEVED ISSUES. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY AT A DEVELOPERS HOME. WOW!! NOBODY EVEN REPORTED IT ON THE LOCAL NEWS. PEOPLE NEED TO ACCEPT THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY'S RESULT AND MOVE ON. THIS WRITE IN CAMPAIGN IS STUPID. IF TONY WILLIAMS COULD MOVE ON, AND IN MY BOOK HE WAS THE BEST MAYOR THIS CITY'S EVER HAD, SURELY FENTY CAN TOO. BESIDES, NOW HE GETS TO RAKE IN ALL OF THE KICKBACKS FROM HIS DEVELOPER PALS. ALSO, ABOVE A DS-13 AND CERTAIN EXECUTIVE LEVEL JOBS IN THE DISTRICT GOVERNMENT ARE ALL AT WILL JOBS. THE EASY WAY TO KEEP TRACK IS IF YOU AREN'T IN A UNION YOU CAN BE FIRED AT WILL IN THE D.C. GOVERNMENT.

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