Loose Lips

What’s Wrong With Vince Gray?

What's Wrong With Vince Gray?

It only took Mayor Vince Gray six years to go from running a non-profit for troubled teens to being the city’s top elected official. But after that rapid rise, it’s only taken him two months to cut short his own honeymoon and become a political punchline.

So what happened? How did a guy who looked like a pro while easily dispatching a much-better funded incumbent in September come to look like a lost little lamb by March?

At least part of the problem is that people with questionable backgrounds who want city jobs are clearly attracted to Gray—and the mayor doesn’t know how to push them away.

First it was Reuben Charles, an entrepreneur who quickly became Gray’s go-to-guy during the campaign but had left behind a string of sour business deals and unpaid debts in the Midwest. The rumor mill was pretty certain that Charles was going to be Gray’s chief of staff, until the then-mayor-elect was blindsided by more reports of Charles’ unpaid debt problems.

Next comes Sulaimon Brown, whose rapid transformation from annoying seventh-tier mayoral candidate to the Gray administration’s chief accuser has been nothing short of remarkable. (For the two of you reading this who don’t know Brown’s backstory, here is the CliffsNotes version: Brown runs for mayor on a platform advocating that Gray be mayor. Brown gets a $110,000-a-year job with the Gray administration. LL suggests Brown’s hiring is a bad idea, given his legal problems and other issues. Brown is fired the next day and has to be escorted out of his office by police. Brown goes on the attack, accuses the Gray camp of making illegal payments to his campaign and promising him a job.) Gray has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in l’affaire Sulaimon, and has been helped by Brown’s increasingly erratic behavior. But by the same token, the crazier Brown acts, the more one has to wonder why the Gray administration ever hired him in the first place.

Joining Brown in the category of never-should-have-been-hired is Talib Karim, a Gray supporter who was the chief of staff at the same agency where Brown worked. Karim resigned last week after LL wrote about court records that indicated he used physical force against his wife.

And then there’s Howard Brooks, the current man of mystery who stands accused by Brown of being the Gray aide who slipped him envelopes of cash. Brown doesn’t have a shady background—public records show he’s lost a couple of business-related lawsuits, declared bankruptcy, and has a couple speeding tickets—but his behavior since being accused by Brown does not inspire confidence. First, Brooks denied to The Washington Post ever calling Brown. Then when he was confronted with phone records showing multiple calls between the two, Brooks told the Post he was lawyering up and wouldn’t answer any more questions. He’s since been ignoring reporters’ calls.

Reports this week on Brooks’ past business enterprises and their links to Gray also cast doubts on the mayor’s claim that he doesn’t know Brooks well.

Gray shouldn’t be held personally responsible for everyone who joins his team. He’s the mayor, not the head of human resources. But he needs to find someone who’s looking out for his political interests, and quickly.

“They’re leaving him hanging out there,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, an avid Gray supporter who says the constant scandal drip coming from Gray’s office is “kind of depressing.”

Other Gray supporters, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Gray’s inner circle has let him down by being politically tone-deaf. “Ultimately, he’s put his trust in some of the wrong people,” says one supporter. (Some of the finger-pointing has centered on Lorraine Green, Gray’s campaign and transition chairwoman, who Brown has also accused of giving him cash. Green denies Brown’s claims.)

For proof, look no further than the hirings of the progeny of Gray’s backers. The children of Gray’s chief of staff and his communications director, as well as Brooks’ son and Green’s daughter, all landed new jobs with the Gray administration. Gray says the new hires have been qualified, but for a guy who ran on a platform of ending cronyism in city government, he should have known how bad those hires would look. Or he should at least have someone working for him to tell him how bad it looks.

“That may not have been the best decision,” says Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, another strong Gray supporter.

So what can Gray do to get out of this hole? One thing that’s frustrating his supporters is the way Gray seems to have lost his message mojo. Rather than making news, he’s now only reacting to the steady stream of bad headlines coming his way. Gray’s tried to turn the page by announcing that Kaya Henderson will be permanent chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, but it hasn’t been enough.

Perhaps more dramatic news is needed. Maybe he could buy a Smart Car?

* * *

COMBINE THIS!

It’s not as sexy as Sulaimon or the Lincoln Navigators, but there’s a corporate tax reform issue looming that just might highlight Gray’s problem of listening to the wrong people.

Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi has been pressuring District lawmakers for a while to adopt a corporate income tax policy known as combined reporting. The law would require multistate corporations, like Comcast or Pepco, to pay taxes on profits they make in the District, rather than shifting money around to other states. If the District were to enact combined reporting, it would join 23 states (of the 45 with a corporate income tax) that have combined reporting—and raise an additional $23 million the next fiscal year. Which might come in handy, given the buckets of red ink D.C. budgets have been dipped in lately.

Opponents, who include the well-connected lobbyists of large corporations and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, say combined reporting can be overly burdensome and unfair. Supporters of combined reporting say the law not only helps the District’s struggling finances, but also levels the playing field for smaller businesses that exist in the District alone and can’t take advantage of out-of-state loopholes.

Or, as the wordsmith Gandhi put it to LL in a statement: “Combined reporting can provide a far more accurate picture of a unitary enterprise’s true income within a taxing jurisdiction because it minimizes distortion from income and expense shifting all too common in separate entity jurisdictions like the District of Columbia.” (The CFO is clearly not the message maven Gray is looking for.)

To find a good example of why combined reporting is needed, supporters say, look no further than the District’s unreliable electric utility Pepco. Records indicate that there have been years when Pepco’s not had to pay state income taxes, despite being profitable. A Pepco spokesman says the company, which operates in D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, opposes combined reporting because it could lead to higher electric rates.

In 2009, the D.C. Council actually approved combined reporting, but it still needs to pass enabling legislation, which Gandhi has already drafted, that spells out exactly how the law will be implemented.

At a recent news conference to convey the good news that the District’s budget gap was only (“only”) going to be $322 million and not several hundred million worse, Gandhi passed out revenue projections that made clear the District would lose $100 million over the next four years if the council didn’t act on combined reporting.

Joining Gandhi in support of combined reporting is Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who heads the finance committee and is the council’s biggest budget hawk.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t do it,” says Evans. When asked to describe the pitch he gets from lobbyists opposed to combined reporting, Evans says they say “it’s not fair and all that other kind of crap.”

(Sure enough, when LL asks Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang about combined reporting, she says, “I just think it’s unfair.” She believes the legislation would allow the District to tax income that wasn’t made in D.C., which supporters of the legislation say is false.)

One might think that with the support of Gandhi, the guy most elected officials in the District see as the last word on all things financial, and Evans, who is opposed to pretty much every other type of tax increase, combined reporting would breeze into law. One might also think, after listening to Gray repeatedly talk about shared sacrifices, that the mayor would be jumping at a chance to make corporations pay their fair share.

But that’s not the case. Gray hasn’t given any indication whether he’ll include combined reporting and the revenue it will generate in the budget he’s supposed to release on April 1. “That’s a decision that’s yet to be made,” Gray said earlier this month at a news conference.

It could be that Gray is being his normal deliberative self. Evans said last Friday that Gray’s budget folks had told him “it’s right on the line.” (Opponents of combined reporting are convinced Gray will include it his budget, while supporters are convinced Gray won’t. This way he’s sure to please someone!)

Or it could be that Gray, as Evans took the rather unusual step of suggesting to LL, is trying to accommodate the business community that backed him. Multistate corporations that oppose combined reporting were generous donors to Gray’s campaign, transition, and inauguration funds. He appointed Lang to head his transition team’s economic development committee. And let’s not forget that there are dozens of multistate corporations represented by a class of well-connected lobbyists who seem to thrive no matter who is in power. (Take, for example, David Wilmot, a top-paid lobbyist who is on expensive retainers for Comcast, AT&T, and Wal-Mart.)

So will Gray cave to the pressure of the people who supported him? We’ll get our answer when his budget comes out. It’s worth noting that Gray didn’t waste any time pissing off the unions his detractors said he’d be beholden to.

Yet there’s also reason to believe Gray’s looking for a way to make his business backers happy. Asked at a news conference whether he supported combined reporting in theory, Gray wouldn’t answer: “I don’t want to get out ahead of myself.” That could be Gray being cautious, but LL’s got his suspicions.

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

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich

    Correction: I am serving fish dinners down at the church and I wasn't paying attention to what I was writing. LOL LOL

    Southeast Ken, I read the Washington Times article you provided. The article states, both D.C. At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Mayor Vincent Gray wasn't aware of Cherita Whiting's past criminal history. According to the article, Ms. Whiting lied on a previous employment application about her being convicted and serving time in prison for a felony. It appears, Ms. Whiting had several run ins with the law in the past. I don't have a problem with an ex convict getting a job, once they serve their time. I am concern with the type of position they apply for and the type of crime they have committed. If a person has stolen money in the past, would you hire them as a bank teller or if a person was a convicted pedophile, would you hire them working with children?

  • mac

    I'd like to give a shout out to LL and Washington City Paper for some excellent reporting. The WashPost et al. have to acknowledge you in their reporting (and rightfully so). Excellent investigative journalism. I'm happy to see (read) it thrives somewhere!

  • dcresident

    Southeast Ken, you are right but yesterday's article says that Mendelson & Gray both knew of her past. So the Times writer got some explaining to do. Mendelson hired her first so he had the paperwork first, he said he didn't have a problem with her past now yesterday's article says Gray hired her also knowing so she did I guess do the right thing and I agree a person will a money issue should not be handling money and the first report said she is not working with money but gang prevention stuff with kids. So maybe she is good at it and can reach one of these kids she can talk from both sides and most kids relate to someone who can instead of someone seeming like they are talking down to them with no understanding of what they have been through. That ex-offenders office would be good to since she has over 10 years clear maybe she could inspire someone else as well but the Times reported many things one day then many others another day

  • DC Respected Common People

    Speaking the Truth So Help Me GOD.

    Gray just like Fenty never deserved the role as the Chief Executor of District of Columbia. Not eliminating, Fully-Loaded Kwame Brown, the most unintelligent of all Chairman's of City Council.

    People of colore must learn not vote based on your personal likes of an individual, as oppose to their competence, character and integrity in leading a specific role of service.

    Gray and Fenty are officials, who remain unable to hold up their zippered pants when comes down to dealing effectively with the rights and wrongs of upper Blacks, Whites and Jews in DC.

    In addition, tonly give to their friends, as it relates to the social needs and fabrics of this city.

    Because, Gray sleeps with old-ass Linda Greene, use to sleep with Lorraine Green, friend of old-ass Linda Boyd this women have a personal history. However, are non-comparable with the sophistication of an Alexis Herman or Alexis Roberson.

    Now, Cherita Whiting claims to be the daughter of Chuck Brown, who has secured his talent for events of Harry Thomas (under investigation for Team Thomas) and Vincent Gray (soon to be investigated by the FBI) at a stipend capacity.

    Also, one's would wonder why one of these elected officials would have stooped so low to sleep with the ghetto claw fingered Black smoky breathe female.

    See, people must understand, why she and her real gangster X-offender frind, Ron Moten are still close.

    Note, since Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown has been booked and secured for the Black legislators, they do not want to remove her from employment knowing she lied on her application.

    Maybe, Councilmember Muriel Bowser will stand up as a female leader and take on this outcome?

    The real issue for 2011 is not Marion Barry, but Vincent Gray, Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas. Barry was sanctions. But other officials who violated the law as Ms. Jim Graham and Mr./Mrs. Jack Evans have yet received their equal punishments.

    , and Gray's hos

  • drez

    I don't have a problem with Cherita being hired. But at an excepted service "Special Assistant" position? Really. Is the administration sure about this?
    People in those positions are political operatives, their duties could be anything. They're easy to hire, easy to fire, and only the trusted should be there.

  • Really?

    Al when are you going to release my comments under Remember This Guy?

  • Dig Deeper

    What do the people want? Mayor Gray to hire all white people like Fenty did? Will people be satisfied then? Trust and believe not all of them were qualified either.

  • dcresident

    Southeast Ken it was good talking with you but these other people who hide behind made up names to try and slander others GET REAL go to her and say all of this why speak about it on a blog not man/woman enough add an extra prayer for yourself tonight because while you are trying to tear another person down you are losing out on living your own life.

  • Southeast Ken

    @dcresident; agreed. I don't know Ms. Whiting, S. Brown, and others Mayor Gray or his administration hired. I don't have anything against Ms. Whiting personally because I don't know the lady. I was playing the devils advocate due to the City Paper constantly writing articles on Sulaimon Brown and not Cherita Whiting.

    I agree with Drez, I questioned Ms. Whiting's appointment as a special assistant at Parks & Rec. making $65,000. yearly. This isn't a regular civil service position. As a DC voter, resident, and taxpayer, I am concerned with these hires and salaries due the District's $666 million deficit.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich; I would love to have a good old crocker, porgie, or spot fish sandwich today. There's nothing like a good hot bone fish sandwich on Thursday and Friday afternoons. LOL

    I use to drive to the southwest water front to buy fresh fish to fry at home.

  • Southeast Ken

    CHARLIE SHEEN for mayor! I would rather see Charlie Sheen as mayor of the District than to see Barry, Fenty, or Gray.

    At this point in the District history, I don't think Charlie Sheen could do any worse than the fools we had running the District in the past and the present.

  • Really

    I see folks don't have much to say about the Kelly V. Report. Oh... that right...the rule are aren't the same for the Fenty admin.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Really; what is the Kelly V. Report? Can you please educate us on this report?

  • Really?
  • Southeast Ken

    @Really; thanks.

  • Drez

    Who cares about Kelly V? Fenty fired her last summer.

  • Jon

    Really? 64 comments over Vince Gray? LOL @ Daddy Grace Fish Sammich. WHo knew the comments section of Loose Lips was popping off like this

  • Truth Hurts

    Add the following names to the list of Gray's close friends, associates, and backers others have mentioned:

    BRUCE BEREANO- covicted felon, disbarred lawyer, disgraced lobbyist

    DOUG JEMAL- convicted felon, tax deadbeat

    HARRY THOMAS- loud mouth slush fund lawbreaker under AG investigation

    REUBEN CHARLES- google him

    DON PEEBLES- arrogant rich bud being sued by DC for fraud

    DAVID WILMOT- appointed to transition team (google his disgraceful group home fiasco

    These are a few of his favorite friends. So nothing about his first couple months as mayor should come as any surprise. Fasten your seatbelts, there will be lots more to come.

  • Drez

    TH!
    The Trout report supposedly will come out tomorrow!
    You win the bet, though it's been so long that I don't remember what it was for anymore.

  • Skrilla

    Really, in case you haven't noticed, the Fenty administration is OVER. Just because folks are up in arms about this ONE CITY disaster doesn't mean we all want Fenty back. Tony Williams would do nicely. Heck, even a Control Board is a better look than Vince...

  • Color struck

    Jamnew, did I not say dunbar was a haven...therefore when your yellow daddy didn't enter he went where the darkies attended school and that was at armstrong....your own words to enter dunbar you must have "connections" so you validated your family history of not being well connected... as for using the race stigma, well I must have thrown a rock into a pack of dogs and you go"t it...yelp!!!

  • Really

    @Skrilla...I let go when folks stop bringing up the Barry days which has been over for how long.

    Hypocrisy 101 given by Drez….who states who “cares about Kelly Valentine”

    So who cares Drez says about:

    Valentine who was an unqualfied agency head With an annual salary of $147,848 (note that it's more than 110k)

    What about the firing Really?

    -Well “A Fenty spokesman did not respond to a question of whether Valentine would continue to draw a paycheck while on leave.

    So Really what’s the knock on Kelly V?

    -Kelly V mismanaged by failing to record and remit an estimated $8.7 million in deducted health and life insurance premiums
    -Valentine gave lucrative contracts to her friends. Contracts ranging from health insurance coverage and private investigations were handed off to companies with ties to Valentine, according to whistleblowers.
    -Well boys and girls and Drez Ms. Kell V asides from the FBI and the inspector general, city Auditor Deborah Nichols (see report in Al’s story with 2 counts) and the finance office's integrity team have also begun probes.

    Anything more interesting with the Kelly V firing?
    -of course… Fenty loyalist Chip Richardson will move from Fenty's general counsel to ORM's interim director.

    Richardson represented Fenty before he was mayor when he was admonished by the D.C. Bar Association for legal malpractice.

    Richardson also played a major role in the Fenty administration's ill-fated attempt to donate firetrucks to the Dominican Republic, and has also been admonished by the D.C. Bar Association for failing to pay $28,000 in child support payments.

    So according to Drez it’s ok for certain folks (crooks) to draw $140k salary, It’s ok for certain loyalist to get a job in administration, it’s ok to use public funds to give to your friends, it is ok to fail to pay childsupport and still hold a job?

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/beleaguered-dc-risk-management-head-ousted (hat tip to Al)

  • drez

    @ Really
    I don't know nor do I care about KV. What I know is that she was fired nearly a year ago, and that for some reason you're living in the past.
    I don't care because it's over.
    I care about VG because it's the here and now.
    Get it?

  • http://citypaper Tony

    Anothernative,it very taxing comprehending your DRIVEL!

  • Told-Ya-So

    Screw-ups of his predecessors aside, nobody can dispute that the Gray we are seeing now isn't the one who ran for office. Something is wrong. I think this is a combination of a bad team, poor judgment and just plain old true colors coming to the surface. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt going into the new term (even though I did vote for Fenty) but all of my worst fears about him are already coming true. What we have is a mess on our hands and nobody can deny it or give him pass, regardless of what Fenty, Williams or even Barry did in the past. This is the now and he has to step up and fix this.

  • Really

    Yeah Drez...a couple of months and $8.7 million...don't mean NOTHING! wow....

    $8.7 is screw-up?

    If you don't know your past..then you dont know your future.

  • Anothernative

    @Tony, If you didn't comprehend anything else, you figured out the Deez nuts in your mouth part, didn't you.

  • http://citypaper Tony

    Anothernative, what is your gender?

  • http://citypaper Tony

    Anothernative,you getting your talking points from Dr. Dre and Snoop. Have a good day.

  • http://citypaper Tony

    Are citizens of the district receiving any tax refund checks from the district?

  • susie love

    vince gray.need too step down.he use brown to get in.now the tag.arrest not right.how you do that to people yet you had brown to do your dirty work.at least be who you are.everytime somebody color get higher up,they find a way too mess up.what you need to do is too stop the cocanie that gone on ,now your talk about ciggrett but your cant stop the cocaine.nobody talk about that.at lesae mayor berry.are who he is.nobody will every take his place.he care about the people of DC,

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