Loose Lips

Vernon Hawkins, Person of Interest

D.C. Politics Investigation Focuses on Vernon Hawkins, Friend of Mayor Vince Gray

Sulaimon Brown, what hath you wrought?

Just over a year ago, the former D.C. minor mayoral candidate with a Maryland driver’s license upended the city’s political world with his front-page accusations in the Washington Post. Brown, you all know, claimed he’d taken secret cash payments and the promise of a city job from top officials in Vince Gray’s campaign in return for attacking Gray’s opponent, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

The accusations launched a federal investigation that for the better part of a year didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Were there some shenanigans with Brown? Probably, but nothing serious enough to endanger the mayor. After Brown’s accusations, the Post found that the Gray campaign may have illegally been converting cash donations from cab drivers into money orders. Embarrassing for the campaign, sure, but there was nothing to suggest that Hizzoner himself did anything wrong or might be in trouble.

But then came last month’s raid on Jeff Thompson’s house. Thompson, an accountant and Medicaid contractor with a city contract worth $322 million a year, is one of the biggest contributors to local political campaigns. Gray personally collected as much as $100,000 from Thompson and his associates, according to NBC4’s Tom Sherwood.

All of a sudden, the federal probe into Gray’s campaign has gotten a lot more interesting.

“Sulaimon opened Pandora’s box,” says one former Gray campaign aide.

So what’s in that box? Several former Gray campaign aides say what the feds are probably seeing is evidence of a “shadow campaign” separate and apart from the official effort and at least partially funded outside what Gray disclosed in financial reports.

“From the very beginning, I always felt like there were two campaigns,” says a former campaign aide, who, like several others interviewed for this story, asked for anonymity when discussing information that might interest federal agents.

Former aides point to the accusations leveled by Brown against Howard Brooks, the campaign worker Brown says gave him envelopes filled with cash, as the most visible example of this shadow effort. Brooks, who has declined D.C. Council requests to testify about his role in the campaign, has been working with the feds and even worn a wire undercover, according to WUSA9’s Bruce Johnson. Brooks would not comment for this story.

Brooks, who aides say was not close to Gray, is a friend of former campaign chairwoman Lorraine Green. But another campaign worker whom LL has discovered has also caught the attention of investigators for U.S. Attorney Ron Machen is tight with the mayor.

At least part of the federal investigation is looking at Vernon Hawkins, a longtime political operative and close friend of Gray’s, according to two sources familiar with the probe. At issue: what exactly Hawkins’ role was in getting Gray elected.

Several of Gray’s former campaign aides, some of whom have talked to the feds, give varying accounts of how involved Hawkins was with the mayor’s organization. Some describe Hawkins as a well-intentioned pal of Gray’s who was eager to help but didn’t have a large role in the campaign. Others describe him as having an outsized presence, with one former aide calling him the “hub” of the “other” effort, the old hands working to help Gray.

“He was always on the periphery of the campaign,” says the aide.

Hawkins, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, currently works as an administrator at Union Temple Baptist Church in Ward 8. The church’s pastor, Willie Wilson, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2002, and Hawkins worked on that campaign. In 1996, the control board forced Hawkins out as head of the Department of Human Services over the objections of then-Mayor Marion Barry.

Green, Gray’s former campaign chairwoman, describes Hawkins as an “advisor” to the campaign, and Office of Campaign Finance records show he wasn’t paid. He did do paid work on Gray’s 2006 campaign to be chairman of the D.C. Council. OCF records show he was paid $17,500 after Gray won the primary in that election.

At the beginning of Gray’s mayoral run, Hawkins appeared to have a prominent role. Chuck Thies, a political consultant who interviewed to be Gray’s campaign manager but didn’t get the job, says Hawkins was the point person for a group of Gray supporters who were trying to put together a campaign team before the eventual winner officially got into the race in March of 2010.

“Vernon was at the center of everything that I had to deal with,” says Thies, who did serve as an informal advisor to the campaign even though he didn’t manage it. Thies says that whenever he dropped by Gray’s headquarters, Hawkins was usually there.

Another aide says Hawkins was a semi-regular at Gray’s kitchen cabinet meetings who was frequently asked for advice on how particular campaign strategies would play out east of the river. Other aides say Hawkins played a role in field operations, including vetting campaign literature for Wards 7 and 8. Hawkins acted as a liaison between the D.C. Democratic State Committee and the Gray campaign when the party produced a literature piece promoting Gray and the Democratic ticket just before the general election, according to an email obtained by LL and interviews with aides.

But Hawkins’ turn in D.C. politics didn’t end with Gray’s campaign. He went on to play a similar role in At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange’s campaign in last April’s special election, shortly after Gray won. A campaign aide for Orange says Hawkins was a semi-regular advisor to the campaign. LL asked Orange a month before that election if Hawkins was working for him, and Orange said no. Perhaps that’s technically true, since Hawkins wasn’t paid by the campaign, but during the swearing-in ceremony after he won, Orange thanked Hawkins by name.

“All of a sudden, you know one of the top strategists in town comes around, Mr. Vernon Hawkins, and I was like, ‘uh-oh, what is going on here,’ said Orange, describing how his campaign came together. “And we all just pulled together a very strong team.”

This week, Orange told LL that during the last election Hawkins was “a person who came around the campaign, who I talked to.” He says Hawkins has the same role in his current campaign.

Which could mean the feds won’t be done asking questions for a while.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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

  • Ward 1 Voter

    If Machen has a strong case against Orange, sure would be helpful to bring charges against him before the primary, so voters can factor that into their decision-making.

  • Drez

    ...Several former Gray campaign aides say what the feds are probably seeing is evidence of a “shadow campaign” separate and apart from the official effort...
    "separate and apart" my ass.

  • Anoymous

    "This week, Orange told LL that during the last election Hawkins was “a person who came around the campaign, who I talked to.” He says Hawkins has the same role in his current campaign.

    Which could mean the feds won’t be done asking questions for a while."

    So why the pic of Gray?

    Loose Lips stirs pots.

  • DConfidential

    Ward 1 voter wrote:
    "If Machen has a strong case against Orange, sure would be helpful to bring charges against him before the primary, so voters can factor that into their decision-making."

    What??? Why would anyone consider voting for Orange when he is tied multiple aspects of the ongoing federal investigation, and seems to be the largest beneficiary of the Thompson network.

    Voters chose to ignored the warning signals with HTJ and within a year of being re-elected he ends up going to prison.

    Wake the F*ck up D.C. The control board is just around the corner. And if Vincent Orange is re-elected, only to be removed from office in the near future; we don't deserve home rule and forget about statehood.

  • NE John

    Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again, when they're all in jail I'll cheer again, happy days are here again!

  • Bride of Kwame

    Seems like everything Mayor Gray is involved in the media finds some type of way to include Orange.

    Your better off saying their Blood Brthers than to finds anything newsworthy in a haystack.

    Biddle was endorsed by Gray & Brown which means he is affiliated with crooks as well.

    Why is it that Loose Lips never talks about the accomplishments that Biddle or Shapiro had during their political careers? Because they havent done anything.

    Atleast Kwame had a record!

  • lkjfldj

    I believe Vernon Hawkins committed wrongdoing. He walked around as though he was a Capo or something. Vince Gray's campaign had the feel of organized crime, no joke (but ironically in a sloppy way). Sweatsuits and baseball bats!!!

  • I wonder why

    Out of all the people the Feds are talking to, why aren't they talking to Vincent Gray's girlfriend at the time of his campaign? I can't remember her name but she was there at plenty of the events performing in major roles. The Feds aint beatin down her door cuz she works for them. Make ya say hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  • Terry Miller

    To me, it still seems like the feds are after Thompson and Harris, more than anyone else. And maybe the Gray campaign treasurer and chairman. We will just have to wait and see. It is very interesting.

    I worked on the Gray campaign but it was on the ground, so everything seemed fine to me. Actually, it was a wonderful experience and I thought the people were great and really positive.

  • Hillman

    "In 1996, the control board forced Hawkins out as head of the Department of Human Services over the objections of then-Mayor Marion Barry."

    Doesn't that sortof say everything we need to know?

    Now this character is instrumental in running a shadow campaign, funded by, you guessed it, a massive company that gets hundreds of millions of dollars in health care reimbursements administered by, yep, Dept of Human Services.

  • InIt2WinIt

    Waiting quietly for the U.S. Attorney's office to conclude their investigation.

  • Money Order Shawty

    You all remind me of all the losers who tried to cross into a greek organization and werent good enough to make it so they find ways to exploit the group and their practices.

    This is nothing more than a battle between the "Old DC" vs "New DC.

    The newbies/progressives think they can move to the city and call shots, and the old DC is catching all the heat because they dont have any clout in the city.

    Well if it were up to me all these progressive and FAKE CITIZENS should move elsewhere if they dont like how DC runs their business.

    Shapiro should not even be allowed to run in the race. This is a clear example of people outside of DC thinking they can pop up and run the show. Dude your a Maryland politician, we dont want anything YOU HAVE TO OFFER. Point Blank

    Biddle, my ohhh my Biddle, your arent built for a political career. You are a teacher, a principal, perhaps you should be in Kaya Hendersons position ANYTHING BUT POLITICS. I do not want a Rookie as an At-Large Councilmember. For four months you have nothing to show for. Hell I would atleast tell people I held the door for people who walked in the Wilson building.

    Your nothing but a WASTE OF SPACE

    Orange, you big head big belly wanna be top DOG. To be honest someone needs to coach that guy on facial expressions. Every picture looks as if he breathes Dog Crap. Whatever you do just tuck your big lip back in PLEASE!

    Holness lady who the HELL ARE YOU? What are you good at? You clearly know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about Politics. Are you best friends with CALVIN GURLEY. Both of you all entertain the crowd but realistically you two bird brains were nothing more than just that.... A JOKE!!!

    In the end The Ugly Orange wins because his nose killed the other candidates!

  • Ward 1 Voter

    "Well if it were up to me all these progressive and FAKE CITIZENS should move elsewhere if they dont like how DC runs their business."

    Just so you don't get your hopes up too much, hope you understand there's not a chance of that happening. The ongoing demographic transformation of DC will of course continue, and one of its more beneficial side effects will be drying up the swamp of the good-old-boy network. And once that goes, a whole lot of other stuff will suddenly become possible.

  • Cat Like

    I have been part of a number of campaigns and there is always a well organized, well tooled set of volunteers who run their own thing and do their own thing.

    Some because they believe the campaign is just unorganized and they know better.

  • Money Order Shawty

    @Ward1Voter exactly, people who were born and raised in DC cant even afford to live here. Children who went to school here and to college cannot move back to the city.

    If that isn't "Pay to Play 101" what the hell is? People crying about campaign contributions but you have people who cannot afford the cost of living in DC anymore.


  • A common denominator

    What do you get when you cross Jeanne Harris, Jeff Thompson ans Vernon Hawkins=Mark Long. Check out campaign money.com it seems Jeff and Jeanne's reach extends beyond DC. Mark Long has contributed over $13,750 over the last few years to campaigns ranging from Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Heath Schuler, and Allbert Wynn. The contributions list multiple addresses and employers for Long, most of which were recorded under false addresses and employers(using Retails Int. (Details Int) and Ed (Ed Futures) , both companies Long has been associated with. Where does a guy with such modest earning get $13,000 to make political donations?

  • Ward 1 Voter

    Yeah, I can understand that from the perspective of someone who doesn't have much money, the ongoing revitalization of DC is a looming threat. And it's sad in the abstract that people who grew up in particular neighborhoods are getting priced out.

    But from the perspective of people who do have some money, it's great to see other people with some money flooding in, new buildings going up, old buildings getting new facelifts, and new stores and restaurants popping up all over. And it's great to think that we're nearing a tipping point where the issues keeping some out -- crime, schools, the tax burden, political corruption and incompetence -- might disappear as barriers.

    And if all that means that some home-owning old-timers cash out and move to Maryland or Florida, or some renters opt for places with cheaper rent, well, you know, I for one am comfortable with remaining sad in the abstract about their displacement.

  • Coffee Politics

    @Ward1 please, anywhere but Florida. Yes I have on a hoodie as Im making this comment to. And no I am not black!!

  • http://btolson1@verizonnet.com KARMA

    Will the FBI come to the WIlson Building and ARREST the Mayor?

  • gitchafaxstr8

    @KARMA: Curious about why u would think it would be the Mayor the Feds would be after based on this blog. If the former Mayor and his gangsta administration could actually legally pilfer $92m, why would you expect the current Mayor or any CM to be arrested for accepting questionable campaign donations from a very saavy and shrewd wealthy man who made similar donations to damn near every politician he ever met (including that dumb ass S. Brown dude)? Do LL/MM plant posts to incite ignorant rhetoric worthy of the tabloid press and censor what comments they don't like? Does a bear shit in the woods? And if this is printed I'll be very surprised.
    Frankly, I'm a bit tired of it and plan to move on to more credible and honest blogs. Anyone care to join me? Bet this won't see the light of day. I can see it now: IN MODERATION

  • gitchafaxstr8

    Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.
    LL/MM must be hard up to keep posters.

  • Mike Madden

    @ gitchafaxstr8:

    As I've explained here before, the WordPress system, not a person, puts posts into moderation. I have no idea why yours did or didn't get flagged.

    But if you want to make sure you avoid getting caught in the moderation queue, you might want to start your own blog where you can say whatever you'd like about City Paper without having to worry about our system.