Loose Lips

Mary Cheh Is Annoyed

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh Says She's Not Pulling Punches on Vince Gray

Quite a few things annoy Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh these days.

Anonymous D.C. Council staffers telling reporters Cheh is “caught between a rock and a hard place”: annoying.

“Why don’t you make the judgment based on what I’ve done, as opposed to some theory that I’m in a tight spot. So what is the problem here? What is the problem?” Cheh says.

The press saying she’s in the tank for Mayor Vince Gray: also annoying.

“This is just so unfair to me, it’s just infuriating me actually. You want to have a theme, and you want to have a story, you want to create something, but the reality belies it,” Cheh says.

Witnesses not answering subpoenas, and a long parade of Gray aides giving her committee bullshit answers: really annoying.

“It annoys me greatly for people to think either that they can thumb their nose at us and just not come, or to come and tell us stuff that ain’t true,” Cheh says.

At the risk of annoying her further, LL needs to give a brief background on the politically awkward position Cheh is in. She’s fresh from overseeing four very long hearings on the early days of the Gray administration, including the hiring of failed mayoral candidate-turned-wildly successful media star Sulaimon Brown (who says he was given cash and promised a job in exchange for bashing then-Mayor Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail) and the placement of children of senior aides in government jobs.

The hearings yielded no earth-shattering news, but they were well attended by the press, and gave new life to a story that derailed Gray’s honeymoon.

Except Cheh is also one of the mayor’s closest supporters. She went out on a limb by endorsing him over Fenty, who was far more popular in Ward 3 than elsewhere in the District.

The gulf between how her constituents feel about Gray and Cheh’s support for the mayor have led to questions about how she’s leading the investigation into the administration’s hiring practices. (Councilmember David Catania labeled an initial report from Cheh a “whitewash.”)

Cheh, a former prosecutor who teaches constitutional law at George Washington University, seethes at any suggestion she hasn’t played it straight down the middle.

“If you’re suggesting that I pulled punches with any of the witnesses, again, I would think you’re quite wrong,” Cheh says.

Having watched all 4,000 hours of the hearings, LL can tell you that Cheh’s got a point. While she may not have pressed as hard as Catania, Cheh was pretty tough. In fact, during last week’s testimony of Gray confidante Lorraine Green, Cheh seemed just about fed up.

In her opening remarks, Cheh said several aides had committed perjury, and called out Gray’s former human resources director, Judy Banks, by name. Cheh also said the storyline peddled by Green—that Brown was promised a job interview, not a job—was “implausible.”

Anyone might be frustrated by the answers some of Gray’s closest aides gave. It seems like a number of aides either have such bad memories they ought to see a doctor, or they didn’t take their oaths to tell the truth very seriously.

For instance: Gray’s transition chairman, Reuben Charles, told the committee he didn’t have a role in hiring people for the administration. But recently released emails indicate that he helped wanna-be city workers with political capital get noticed.

Former Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall says she kept an “arms length” distance from the District’s hiring “process” when it came to her son’s job application. But her son directly contradicted her in private testimony, according to council staff. (Hall’s son has a medical condition that required he be interviewed privately.)

As for Banks, Cheh says her testimony was “shot through with perjury.” Banks’s testimony has been contradicted by at least four others who testified under oath. And her emails contradict what she told the council, particularly on how the son of a Gray department head got hired at the fire department.

“You can’t prove that what I’m saying is not true,” Banks told the committee.

Cheh’s response, in essence? Watch me. She says she’ll seek permission to forward evidence of perjury to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

But her annoyance with Gray’s top aides doesn’t extend to the mayor. In Cheh’s view, Gray’s only sin was trusting Banks, Green, and Hall to make hiring decisions. She still has no regrets about supporting Gray over Fenty.

“Maybe [Gray’s] not going to be, you know, everything that one could hope, but I know that from experience that it was not sustainable for Fenty to stay as mayor,” Cheh says.

Maybe. But Cheh came to the council as a Fenty ally, before getting fed up with his style. Cheh says her relationship with Gray isn’t as close at it was—because he’s in a different “orbit” than when they worked closely together on the council.

Cheh says the only time she and Gray discussed the hearings was after news broke of Brown’s accusations, when Cheh sent Gray a text message.

“I said, ‘Just want you to know, I’m going to have to look into this,’” Cheh says. To which Gray replied with a “: (”

Not really, but it would be cool if he had.

“And he never said anything, and that was that,” she says.


If you’ve already cancelled your subscription to The Washington Post, you missed a rather odd picture on the Saturday editorial page.

The paper of record ran an editorial questioning why Gray’s former chief of staff had marked on her calendar a reminder to call the attorney for Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., who is under investigation by the attorney general’s office for running an alleged “slush fund” called Team Thomas. (Both Thomas’ attorney and the mayor’s office say the meeting never happened.)

Next to the editorial was a picture of Gray, Thomas and—who else?—Sulaimon Brown, all grinning and looking happy-like. Brown’s inclusion struck LL as a bit unfair; Brown has nothing to do with Team Thomas, and Thomas has nothing to do with the Brown mess.

The photo apparently stuck in Gray’s craw, too. When asked by WTOP’s Mark Segraves, Gray said the photo was “way beyond the pale,” and that the Post should explain itself.

So LL asked Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, to do just that. Says Hiatt: “We weren’t trying to make any big statement; it was just an archive photo of three people very much in the news, taken during the campaign.”

OK, but LL suspects the Post has at least one file photo of just Gray and Thomas, sans Sulaimon. Thomas, after all, is the mayor’s faithful sidekick and seems to show up at just about every public mayoral event.

As it stands, by using the Sulaimon picture, the Post undercut a perfectly legitimate editorial and gave ammo to Thomas’ mostly B.S. complaint that the investigation is nothing more than a politicized witch hunt. Which is why this column is accompanied by a photo of just Mary Cheh, not a file photo of Cheh and Brown hand-dancing atop a pile of cash.

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

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • itsjustamess

    If Mary Cheh is annoyed, then join the rest of us who are annoyed, disgusted, and completely fed up with this unbelievable circus sideshow being paraded as a fact-finding hearing. She's just feeling the heat of our anger for her apparent, blatant attempt to whitewash this whole bursting-at-the-seams scandal that Gray can't handle. These so-called witnesses are thumbing their noses at the Council because they get NO respect EVER from ANYONE. They're like a pitbull without teeth, a snake with no slither, and a bear with no claws. USELESS as heck! With the exception of David Catania, the Council is nothing more than an uncelebrated punk festival. I wish these hearings included citizens on the panel. I would love to be selected to serve on it. I tell you all one thing, Mary Cheh might be annoyed but darn if she'd be bored. The revolution may not be televised but those hearings would be broadcast live, globally syndicated and prone to pre-empt a presidential speech given on the lawn of the White House. I wouldn't need no subpoenas to get witnesses to testify. Just a summon. Yeah, summon my boys in blue to pick them up in Kwame's fully loaded Navigator and escort them to the hearings where they'll either end up pleading the fifth or needing a fifth. It might be just a mess but darn it, I bet I'll clean it up!!!!!

  • Ward 3 Voter

    Cheh is getting exactly what she deserves. She is the Pro Tem after all, meaning she's had Kwame's back through all of this BS. Bottom line - she cannot be trusted.

    A real Dem could totally take her out and hopefully will next time around. To top it all off, CHEH IS ANNOYING as hell. Try spending more than 2 minutes with her.

  • Ward 4 voter

    Under multiple administrations, the council, mayor, and appointed officials in DC have been giving the citizens the finger for years. Try contacting these fatheads for an answer to anything and you get the runaround. Mary Cheh should stfd and stfu. A few weeks ago, she acted like getting "locked up" for DC voting rights was a big gimmick, "Oooh wee! I wanna go to jail too!" Please sit your ass down somewhere.

  • Ward Cl3aver

    Ward 4:

    You think Cheh thought getting locked up in our efforts at self-determination is a "gimmick?" Are you sure you live in Ward 4? Or is it really Silver Spring? Given your statements, you seeem to be "over the line," my friend.

    Cheh got locked up to protest Obama and Reid bargaining away our right to use our local tax revenues for low-income abortions. And in a city where 9 of 10 teen pregnancies are east of the river, she made an important point. Her arrest is simply an illustration of her strong conviction on these two important subjects of our city's and a woman's right to self-determination. I may not like all of her positions, but I enjoy having a member who gives a shit and acts on it.

    I personally have contacted Mary Cheh somewhere around 5 to 7 times. She directly responded to every email - even when I made explicitly clear my disapproval of one particular issue. She responded to them all, except one. In most recent cases, she responds, and then a staffer follows up.

    From a most critical perspective, I watched her improve over the course of her first term, seeing her understand the value of keeping constituient services ahead of her desire to improve the whole city - ably doing both.

    Cheh earned my vote - and 14,000 more. And while you may never find her likable, you have to look at the facts and then you will see someone who we don't need to love, but are fortunate to have.

  • Mary

    Mary Cheh is still supporting the Mayor and following his cover story of the staff made the mistakes. Cheh should see that she is being lied to and the Mayor knew or should have known about these hiring decisions and salaries offered to people in his administration. For Gray to say the staff did it and I had no idea they were hiring kids of cabinet members at fat salaries, etc. is insulting to the public. Cheh cannot get to the truth if her approach is so lame and her mind set is the Mayor did nothing wrong. Cheh is not a good investigator as in the investigation on the voting machine problems during an election, when after numerous hearings Cheh concluded it was a computer error that doubled votes in several precincts ending up with total votes that outnumbered the registered voters in that precinct. Gray should be called in to testify in this investigation.

  • Skipper

    Cheh finally realized she was being played by the Gray cronies b/c they knew they had nothing to fear from here. Now it's too late for her to do anything other than pout and stomp her feet.

    Hopefully she traded cleaning up Gray's mess for more street paving for Ward 3.

  • Skipper

    And is it really appropriate for Cheh to be sending text messages to Gray about her investigation of his top staffers?

    LL - How about some FOIA requests for all such text messages?

  • Southeast Ken

    I'm still waiting for the Washington City Paper to write an entire article on Cherita Whiting. They seem to attempt to cover this story up.


  • Ward 4 voter

    Yes I live in Ward 4, and have for 15 years. So I don't like Cheh and the council. Big deal.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Ward Cl3aver; so it's ok to abort black babies, while the Salvadoran Central American and Mexican population is increasing daily by the thousands. Of coarse, this is the thinking of liberal whites is to kill black babies.

  • Ward Cl3aver

    No, Ken, that is the thinking of you.

    Stat posted comes from Colbert King, an African American.

  • itsjustamess

    @Southeast Ken - WCP doesn't own nor can ever buy enough ink to print the Cherita Whiting story in its entirety. It is a sordid saga that would rival any past presidential or congressional scandal ever exposed. Albeit, from the ghetto clearance rack prospective. But hold on my good friend, Cherita is a scandal Gray can't handle. She is a chickenhead coming home to roost so don't be surprised to find out just how many dirty rotten eggs she's laid in the Council's henhouse.

  • ess

    wait, Gerri Mason Hall's son has a medical condtion that required him to be interviewed privately? wtf kind of condition is that...afraid of people? something really contagious? how was he going to do his job at DPR?

  • itsjustamess

    @ess - I can't fathom what sort of medical condition Nicholas Hall has but his mother suffers badly from a forked, crooked lying tongue.

  • Dan Maceda

    Considering this is the Capitol City of a country in which few if any are held accountable not Presidents, or bureaucrats or Wall Street Bankers CM Cheh should not be surprised at the lying or failure to show up. Our Congress has the same problem with witnesses. CM Cheh has repeatedly responded to my questions and sometimes with obvious annoyance but she has responded and not always to my satisfaction.

  • emb

    Congratulations, DC, this is what One (City)-party rule gives you!

  • Truth Hurts

    Gee, why would anyone question Cheh's objectivity? Could it be because she already decided Gray couldn't possibly be implicated in these sleazy job schemes?

    Imagine her reaction if this had been Fenty. Would be quite different, I suspect.

  • BorninDC

    What a mess. To grant that Grey knew nothing about what his closest aides were doing would be to immediately assume that while they spoke and emailed to each other about these issues, they NEVER mentioned it to him. That's not real. He most certainly knew. It's only common sense.

    Cheh is trying to walk the fine line of putting on a show hearing to please her constituents, while simutaneously providing cover to the mayor.

    A real investigation would be to assume nothing and go all the way to the top to find out the truth. She's already decided that he is inocent without any evidence. In fact there is more circumstantial evidence that he is guilty as sin.

    Nice try. No sale.


    I am not a resident of DC, nor am I originally from the DMV. However, I have lived in the DC metro area for the past 25 yrs. And it occurs to me that while Wash, DC has been historically, and affectionately known as "Chocolate
    City" in the black community at large...the truth is, that
    Wash, DC is in NOT "chocolate" throughout the city. In fact, its an extremely segregated small metropolis! And there lies the constant political strife in the city. The whites in wards 1 and 3 somehow or another feel under seige by a black political structure that almost guarantees a black person will be elected Mayor of the city. But as Andrian Fenty has clearly illustrated to all of us, and hopefully to the citizens of wards 1 and 3,
    blacks in the other wards of the city will not allow the
    dismantling of their political muscle simply because a "black" man is out front. I would respectfully suggest that those who live in wards 1 and 3 think of ways to better "integrate" their needs with the aspirations of so many others around the district, and stop acting like they
    are surrounded by hostile neighbors!

  • Tom

    I'm confused, either many of the posters can't read or are like the "birthers" and simply refuse to believe the truth. She is holding hearing aggressively questioning witnesses, not silencing Catania and will forward alleged perjury to the US Attorneys office... and you still think she's not doing her job. You clowns are just silly.

  • Terry Miller

    I think that Mary Cheh has been pursing this matter with a great deal of vigor. She has held four hearings, even in the midst of budget negotiations. I think the reasons nothing major has come up, is that nothing major exists. Hiring friends and political allies is not illegal. And even if people don't like the way Mary Cheh has asked question, Catania has been there acting like a member of the Spanish inquisition. Believe me, he has asked ALL of the hard questions, and this is what he has gotten. Public hearings are just not the best way to investigate anything.

  • Wendy Washington

    @Terry Miller & Tom, I agree with your posts. If Gray's detractors feel that Mary Cheh is in the tank for Gray, they have great representation with Catania. He is as dedicated in his role as grand inquisitor, as Newt Gingrich was in dogging Bill Clinton.

  • Mary

    Again, why isn't and won't Mary Cheh do her job? Good thing Catania is there but both Cheh and Catania should be doing there job by asking the tough questions. It is what they signed up for when they went on the committee. Then the joke is Cheh introducing new rules of ethics for the councilmembers. The council does not follow the old rules of ethics.

  • Drez

    In the end, what does anything Cheh does in this matter?
    The FBI and USOAG are investigating. Cheh is out of her league.
    Who cares what she does or thinks save, perhaps, those she needs to impress?

  • http://dcblogdirectorywashpost Lucialyle

    What was so compelling about Gray's background that Cheh urged Ward 3 voters to dump Fenty? My friend (black) and I (white) both agree that Gray is not only ill-equipped to be Mayor, he is really, really strange acting (and looking).

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