Loose Lips

The Catania Conundrum

Bill Dean has the superhero alter-ego thing down pat.

Heir and CEO of a giant electrical engineering and defense contractor that makes nearly $1 billion a year? Check. Thrower of epic parties featuring scores of scantily clad women at his Georgetown mansion? Check. Owner or part owner of a massive Miami beach house, a party yacht, a sports bar, and a newspaper? Check. Politicians on speed dial? Check.

Dean’s been a steady and generous donor to campaigns in the last decade, public records show. He and his company, M.C. Dean, have given more than $560,000 to federal, Virginia, and District pols, with more than $160,000 going to District races.

But it’s not Dean’s political contributions that have raised some eyebrows at the Wilson Building. It’s the fact that he’s the direct boss of Councilmember David Catania, the sharp-tongued lawmaker who enjoys a reputation as one of the more ethical councilmembers on an ethically challenged body.

Catania is M.C. Dean’s $240,000-a-year vice president of corporate strategy, where he oversees the company’s organizational development, compliance, legal, and government affairs issues (except for in the District). Yes, the same M.C. Dean that has various contracts with the city totaling more than $13 million in 2011, is currently fighting for a $100 million streetlight contract, and won a $50 million contract to build part of the new streetcar system. All of which is a set-up, say some of Catania’s colleagues, fraught with problems.

“I am a firm believer that if you work for a company that’s actually doing business with the government, that has contracts with the government, then that activity should be banned,” At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange recently said in a TV interview.

Catania sounds more annoyed than a freshly bathed cat when discussing the nexus, or lack thereof, of his two gigs. (He indicates he thinks it’s impossible for LL to write this article without implying that Catania is in some way corrupt.)

“I’ve taken extraordinary efforts to divide these two worlds,” Catania says, saying he’s always recused himself from any potential conflict of interests, has kept himself “willfully ignorant” of M.C. Dean’s dealings with the city, and never speaks to Dean about council matters. “I don’t know how much more I can do.”

To be clear: LL has never seen a shred of evidence that Catania has done anything untoward to help any of his private employers. (Before becoming V.P. at M.C. Dean last year, Catania worked at OpenBand, a subsidiary of the company. Before that, he worked at the law firm Akin Gump.) Further, Catania has a well-earned reputation for being on the right side of ethical issues. He was the first to call for former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. to resign and took on Medicaid contractor Jeff Thompson, now at the center of the federal investigation into Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign, when Thompson was at the height of his powers.

Even so, Catania’s employment at M.C. Dean still looks iffy. Should D.C. really have a system where councilmembers vote on bills that affect how their employers, their employers’ partners, and their employers’ competitors do business here?

D.C. hiring and contracting laws, which Catania has voted on and suggested changes to, affect just about every major construction company in the city by setting rules on who firms can hire and subcontract with. That includes not only M.C. Dean, but its giant partners in other ventures, like Clark Construction or Skanska.

And your definition of a possible conflict of interest may be significantly different from the city’s. Two weeks ago, Catania voted in favor a bill to expand the number of seats on the airports board—a bill moved to appease Virginia Republicans and make sure the $3 billion second phase of the Metro Silver Line to Dulles was built. Catania also voted to confirm Gray’s pick for the new seat: D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang.

M.C. Dean has been a major contractor on the first phase of the Dulles rail line, and Dean is a member of the chamber’s board. But the D.C. Council’s general counsel didn’t see any problem with Catania voting on the measures because there was “no direct and predictable effect” on M.C. Dean’s finances.

(The potential for crossbreeding between council and outside employment isn’t limited to Catania. Ward 2 Councilmember and Patton Boggs attorney Jack Evans advocated for a convention center hotel that one of his firm’s clients ultimately invested in. Ward 3 Councilmember and constitutional law professor Mary Cheh has voted on budgets that include healthcare contracts between the city and her other employer, George Washington University.)

M.C. Dean has contracts with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services, has worked on school construction, and recently won a contract with DC Water. Catania’s outside employment effectively mutes a good-government advocate and budget hawk on some important issues facing the city related to those contracts, like whether streetcars are worth their enormous cost.

Catania’s boss has been active in city politics and an outspoken critic against union-friendly labor provisions.

Two years ago, after Dean rented his company’s trucks and crews to Jim Graham to put up campaign signs, he told the Washington Post: “In Washington, it’s important that businesses stay involved, and one of the ways that you’ve gotta stay involved is that you have to be active in contributing to people that you can occasionally count on for support.”

Dean has helped finance ads against former Councilmember Carol Schwartz (largely because she supported mandatory paid leave), leased office space to Councilmember Michael Brown’s 2008 campaign at a rock-bottom rate, and funded a nonprofit that has pushed back against union-friendly changes to city construction laws. (Its former* executive director, Ted Trabue, is the District’s school board president.)

Dean says he never talks to Catania about workforce issues and doesn’t pay attention to how his employee votes. And indeed, Catania has voted for labor-related laws that Dean finds objectionable. But Dean acknowledges that some might see a potential conflict stemming from his outspoken views and Catania’s votes on issues related to those views.

“I understand what you’re saying, but then you can’t let councilmembers have jobs,” says Dean.

And Catania says the city shouldn’t create a system that curries to career politicians rather than professionals who are successful in the outside world. “People can speculate if they like, ‘Is this a good system?’,” he says. “I just ask to be judged on my record.”

If only it were that simple.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

*This story has been updated to reflect that Trabue was not the school board's executive director at the time of publication.

  • Sally

    When will Catania and Wells call for Graham to resign?

  • nowaitadaminit

    When will LL do Wells?

  • DCGovcorruption

    Will CP do a breakdown of how much each dc councilmember/mayor has received over the past years from M.C. Dean? After all, they do vote on these contracts awarded to MC Dean over 1 million dollars.

  • Art

    Simple solution, do not allow council members to have other employment. To catania's point about career politicians...if that is his real concern, he should support term limits -- something, btw, that DC votes previously approved and the council took upon itself to repeal.

    And, I am not sure what Catania considers a career politician, but his tenure would certainly qualify in the minds of some.

  • So Sketchy

    I'm glad Orange is against outside employment. He seems to be the only one on the council pressing for the council job to be full time. How can councilmembers say they have the best interest of the city and they have two jobs?

    Thats like being in a relationship with two chicks and saying your equally loyal to both of them. It doesn't make sense.

    If its about the money, just leave the council and stick to making $240,000 a year Catania. Its not a bad deal, but I feel somewhat shortchanged when you can't make an event or don't follow through with stuff including residents because you have to be at your other job.

    You arent struggling, I could see if you had to work two jobs to make ends meet. But the councilmembers are doing well.

  • David

    Does anyone have a good comparision with similar sized cities as far as how their city councils are run? Is our system of part time legislator/outside employment common? The only example I can think of is Texas, which IIRC has a part time 2 year legislative calendar.

    It seems to me that career/professional politicians would at minimum have a lot more time to dedicate themselves to legislative issues, attending meetings, etc. At minimum, Catania's objection to career politicians is as equally valid an objection to our current system, if not more so.

  • Really?

    I want 99 articles besides this one! hit me! We have been yelling about this for how long? Better late then never.

  • Ward-8

    Gosh Darn say it an't so Ms Cataina the only Councilman whom everyone thought was the most rightous of all and dog gone the skeletons are coming out of his closet,do we have any overpaid for parttime work Councilman with any integrity.

  • DC John

    Let us not blame councilmebers for having two or more jobs. Congress set it up this way with the Home Rule Charter. That said, if Chairman Phil can intro a referendum bill for budget autonomy, why not another one to grandfather those on the Council as part time employees but new ones as full time employees?

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  • DCpeoplewithrights

    Any councilmember allowed to be reclused from the vote of their out-side Employer's competitive process via a DC solicitation is a Conflict of Interest that breaks the Code of Conduct for DC government Ethics of law.

  • Time to Clean House

    Catania is plain sketchy. Catania makes $125K for the part time job we elected him as CM and then $240K for his other part time job at MC Dean. I take him at his word that he is conscientious to the best interests of the voters who pay him so I’m certain he is twice as attentive to his other boss who pays him twice as much. Yes, he turned down a possible recent cost of living adjustment but when median household income in D.C. is $58K and DC government executive branch employees are not getting pay raises that was a no brainer decision (though not all CM’s thought likewise but then none have such a good other part-time job).

  • Scotch

    Funny to read Orange's comments on this.

    Anyone remember when he was trolling the hallways of the Wilson Building soon after he was hired by Pepco?

    And his lame defense that he wasn't actually "lobbying" during the one-year cooling off period, but was just "educating" Council Members on Pepco-related issues that were before the Council?

  • Jiggy

    So...Vince Gray's son Carlos has a 2nd job as promoter for a liquor company. The press go's Ape Nuts! And Catania has a a second making job making 125K which has ties to city contracts and nobody goes Ape Nuts!!!!!! Hmmm......really. MC Dean is the largest contractor in the city. David needs to step down, he make Marion Berry look like an angel...

  • And . . .

    And Carlos got a DUI that his dad got him out of, not too long ago. So why is this news?

  • ToTheContrary

    I'll say it again. Members of the District of Columbia Council should not be allowed to have secondary outside employment. They are paid over 110k/yr for part time work. There is always going to be the potential for their being a conflict of interest if not directly then somewhere down the food chain. The further down the more difficult it is to make the connection. If not the primary contractor then with one of the subs.

    How about we put it to a vote on whether the citizens want to amend the D.C. Charter to prohibit outside employment while serving in elected office.

  • Typical DC BS

    Lots of people here get it: there should be NO outside employment / "full-time" jobs for city councilmembers. Utterly ridiculous and rife for conflict of interest (more so than any other "normal" elected official) that they are allowed outside employment. Time to put a stop to that.

  • ToTheContrary

    Is this an issue that the new "Ethics" committee can take up?

  • NEFrank

    Wow, they found a way around what the "others" got fired for doing....M.C. Dean, GW Hospital, etc....all aquainted with council staff.

    I wonder if this went larger to the public, the citizens of DC if it would be a factor when voting.

    Cantania is still a republican pretending to be an independent, we're not stupid, we see his game....a wolf in sheep skin, who cares for nothing but the better of himself and those like him.

    Thank you

  • drez

    He indicates he thinks it’s impossible for LL to write this article without implying that Catania is in some way corrupt.
    Really speaks volumes that the CM believes there's no fair way to discuss this issue.

  • iknewthehellbetter

    Oh, I so hope and wish the Feds or some other authority go hard as hell after Catania. Not because I don't like him, I do but I would so enjoy the blockbusting drama he would give up if someone did an audit on HIS health committee. Man, Catania would go Al Quaeda on us and set off a nuclear bomb under the DC Council that would blow clear to China. Oh please, somebody investigate Catania and we will all know where all the bones and dead bodies are buried. Catania is like Sampson in the Bible. Cut his hair off (health committee) and he will bring down the whole city with his bare ass hands. lolol

  • Ward 2+2

    This is nothing but a"legal bribe". Catania is no more ethical than any other council member. This stinks on every level and to hear him try justify his job at MC Dean is laughable, David, you are delusional!

  • Ward 2+2

    When are Bowser, Catania and Cheh going to call for Graham to resign? These three fools were "out in front" of the Gray's investigation.

    Where is Wells on Graham's issues? No investigation?

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  • Honest Abe

    How David Catania continues to get re-elected is beyond me. I have never seen him in the community in any meetings at all. I'll bet he has never stepped foot in Ward 5. He's an arrogant disrespectful person who repeatedly uses foul language in the council chamber at public hearings. This guy will get what's coming to him sooner rather than later.

  • topryder1

    It is so interesting that in this chain of dedicated citizen comments, that the subject of the story, gets very little traction, but everybody who is black does. Do you actually believe that Dean is paying Catania over $200,000 to be vice president of his firm but he does not discuss labor issues with him?

    You all cannot be that ignorant, but off we go let's talk about the black folks only not crooked Catania, Graham and Jack Evans.

  • http://votedave4dc.com Dave Oberting

    Being a CM and being employed by a company with city contracts is an inherent conflict of interest. It doesn't matter what lengths he's gone to to separate the two, the very fact that he works for a city contractor IS the conflict. How many competitors of M.C. Dean want to bid on city electrical contracts, but ultimately don't because they know they have no chance? I'm not opposed to outside employment per se, but no CM should ever work for any entity that does business with the city. @votedave4dc

  • AERzondzinska

    "He was the first to call for former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. to resign and took on Medicaid contractor Jeff Thompson, now at the center of the federal investigation into Mayor Vince Gray’s campaign, when Thompson was at the height of his powers."

    It's so easy to see when other people are conducting their affairs unethically. Catania finally resigned his job in January 2013, but nonetheless, the city is being street-lighted to death. I wondered who on the Council had a connection to the lighting contractor, and voila! All of the excess lighting contributes to unnecessary expense and energy use, not to mention the health consequences of light pollution to humans and other animals.

  • dfunzy

    Catania, Mister Clean? Well folks have short memories. We was or is still getting $240,000-a-year from M.C. Dean. His boss, the company CEO Bill Dean does, has done, wants to do more business with the city. Get rich contracts. What Mister Catania does for that extra 240K+ on top of his councilman's salary, who knows? Maybe he gives his wheeler-dealer boss lectures on ethics? Some how, I doubt that.