Loose Lips

See the U.S.A. the D.C. Council Way!

A few weeks ago LL brought you the news that Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham spent $1,500 in public funds to travel to Liz Taylor's memorial service in Los Angeles last year. A review of nearly 500 more pages shows that while the purpose of Graham's trip might raise some eyebrows, he was a skinflint compared to one of his colleagues: Councilmember Vincent Orange has taken two taxpayer-funded trips to the City of Angels in the last two years, and neither has been cheap.

In June 2011, Orange accompanied Mayor Vince Gray on meet-and-greets with various movie business officials in an attempt to "attract more Hollywood businesses to D.C.," as Orange wrote on a reimbursement form he submitted to the D.C. Council's secretary. Orange's committee had oversight responsibilities over the District's Office of Motion Picture and TV Development at the time.

Despite finding a cheaper flight to L.A. than Graham had, Orange wound up spending $250 more on the two-day trip than Graham did when he went for Taylor's memorial. The reason: Receipts show that Orange's stay of two nights at Sofitel L.A. in Beverly Hills cost taxpayers $756.19. Orange's two-day car rental, which included a $35-a-day "vehicle upgrade" charge, cost $253.14. Graham, by contrast, stayed at a Mariott hotel that cost less than $160 a night and rented a car that only cost $41 a day. Graham did receive $177.50 in per diem expenses, though, which Orange did not.

Orange ramped up the spending in July 2012, when he returned to L.A. with aide Elizabeth Webster for a tour of Raleigh Studios. Orange and Webster's trip cost the city $4,200, including airfare, receipts show. The pair stayed three nights at the Mondrian Hotel, which bills itself as "one of the most sophisticated, modern and urban West Hollywood Hotels," costing taxpayers nearly $2,000 (the room rate was $291, plus $40 in taxes). Records show that Orange was paid $250 in per diem expenses for the trip, which he could have spent on food or his $200 bill at the hotel's "Skybar." Orange was also reimbursed nearly $500 for a three-day car rental, which included a $28-a-day upgrade and a $63.16 additional charge for returning the car without a full gas tank. Taxpayers also covered the $99 in parking fees Orange's hotel charged.

Orange and Webster also traveled to New York and back in a single day in October 2011 to meet with movie studio executives there. The cost for a pair of train tickets and parking: $780.

Orange did not return a request for comment. LL has also reached out to Council staff last month to find out what the rules are for official travel and has still not heard back. There seems to be little consistency when it comes to what councilmembers are reimbursed for. During their annual pilgrimage to the retail trade show in Las Vegas last May, the lodging choices of councilmembers varied widely.

Then-Councilmember Michael Brown stayed at the MGM Grand for $153 a night. Orange stayed at the Bellagio for $263 a night. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander was reimbursed $1,731.52 for four nights at Vdara Hotel & Spa, or about $420 a night.

Then there's Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, whose chief of staff wrote a note to the Council secretary saying Evans' stay at the $499-a-night Wynn Hotel was the "most basic and least expensive room" at the "host hotel" where the retail store convention was being held. Keep in mind that in 2011, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins and his staff backed out of staying at the Wynn when they found a much cheaper hotel on the Strip.

And finally, consider Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was ordered by the Council secretary to pay the city back $248.93 for "room upgrades" and phone charges he made while staying at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. Barry's $67.20-a-night room upgrade on an original $210 room charge still put him well below what some of his colleagues spent, so it's not clear why he was singled out to cover the extra costs. Barry's chief of staff, Joyce Clements-Smith, paid the reimbursement to the city for Barry's room upgrades and phone bill out of her her own personal checking account, records show.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Ward One Resident

    The circus that is the D.C. Council doesn't stop even in the New Year (although all this happened in previous years).

    Question about the VO trip to NYC. Train tickets I get (still seems high for two tickets unless they were purchased last minute), but what's the parking for? Obviously they weren't parking in NYC, so were they reimbursed for parking in DC? Ridiculous. But then again, all of this is ridiculous.

    Also, going back to the Grahamstander's trip to LA, if it was all really above board, why did we never hear anything about it until the LL story on the expenses? The Grahamstander has never passed up an opportunity to self-promote and if it was as above board as he claims, then why no self-promotion?

  • Typical DC BS

    Nice that Orange can bring his "aide" (cough, side piece, cough) on a city-sponsored "tour" of a movie studio. Bet he learned a lot on that trip, like how clueless his wife and the DC government are about his shenanigans.

  • LoLo

    "Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander was reimbursed $1,731.52 for four nights at Vdara Hotel & Spa, or about $420 a night."

    I would love to hear the explanation behind this one.

  • truth hurts

    I recommend clicking on LL's link to the "aide" Orange took with him to L.A.(fourth paragraph down).

    V.O. must have been loving life, DC council style!!

  • DC Guy

    It's time to clean house.

  • Jim Ed

    Just to clarify, VO and his aide split a room, and did not have seperate rooms, correct?

  • ToTheContrary

    Put a sock in it LL. It is no secret that the city is attractive to motion picture producers. That local officials travel to tinsel town to drum up business that supports our economy is NOT news. Your twist on it is tantamount to girly gossip.

  • Typical DC BS

    @ToTheContrary: Stuff that sock yourself. Your attitude toward these boondoggles is the reason DC politicians are laughingstocks. Pissing money away to "attract business" is the usual answer when these clowns are out of town. NOBODY in tinseltown goes to talk to VO or any other loser on the City Council when they come here to film.

  • ToTheContrary

    @Typical, though you may be passionate in your opinion, it doesn't make it accurate. When politicians, be it DC or any other jurisdication, travel, they very often do have an agenda towards generating economic development, attracting business to the city or establishing cultural relationships (As former Mayor Anthony Williams did when traveling overseas on the city dime). DC Mayors and councilpersons have ALWAYS traveled to conventions etc. for this reason. You don't like this cast of characters. I get that. But as I said, travel and expenditures made towards boosting local interests is hardly news.

  • HaveAMemory

    Funny thing is that DC used to have a covered set studio less then 2 miles from the White House called Citadel/Kalorama Studios; And, It has had some pretty big productions come out of it - Peggy Sue Got Married, Garden of Stone, Dave, True Lies, Pelican Brief and of course Enough is Enough w/ President Clinton (Boxers or Brief fame). These's were covered set intown productions and put us in a position to be a real motion picture town.

    Of course DC Council & Mayor(s) plus our Film Office did nothing to support this facility and it's now a grocery store and we have to go begging for production work to come and stay past the street shots they have to do now. However, until another larger covered studio is made available in the District production companies will just keep going to Baltimore, North Carolina or Toronto and our paid public servants will keep waisting time and money fishing for something that ain't gonna happen.

    BTW for the real wonks just go back and see what the economic numbers during the time of this studio and the numbers we're doing today and also note the recent 5 year plan made little to no mention of this revenue generator for DC.

  • Beat ox

    Piddly shit. Not worth reporting

  • nowaitadaminit

    What I'm having a hard time understanding is why all of these know-it-all assholes don't run for public office and
    put those grandiose ideas to work.

    Anybody can sit around moanin' and bitchin' about what some politician is doing or not doing, but it takes a real gutsy person to put it on the line and run for public office. Especially here in Washington, DC. Hell, all of them can't be wrong all of the time. Not even most of the time. What do you people want????

    What ever happened to having solutions to the problems you complain about? Do any of you haters have a solution to the situation in DC? Do any of you really care?

    SHUT THE 'F' UP AND DO SOMETHING. SINCE YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THINGS BETTER THAN THE ELECTED OFFICIALS: DO SOMETHING.

  • Ward One Resident

    VO is currently on Twitter defending himself and accusing LL of all sorts of things.

    This, like VO himsself, is of course ridiculous. Frankly, I'm no fan of Suderman. I think he's whiny, petty and well, a Cowboys fan. But that being said, he's on point with a lot of his reporting.

    VO's current defense is that it wasn't just him and one other staffer, but him and several other staffers. Sorry dude, but that is NOT helping your case. The fact that you need multiple staff with you (on the city's dime) just makes it worse! You aren't the Mayor, you aren't the CEO of a fortunate 500 company. You don't need an entourage.

  • truth hurts

    My money's on Suderman in the LL v. VO twitter bitch-fest throw-down.

  • noodlez

    YO SEWERMAN WHY IS THIS NEWS WORTHY????

    DID ALL THE OF COUNCILMEMBERS GO?
    EVERY COUNCILMEMBER AND THEIR CREW WHO WENT NAME SHOULD BE LISTED WITH THE AMOUNT THEY SPENT.

    INSTEAD OF CALLING FOLKS OUT WHO YOU DEEM SUSPECT WHY DONT YOU LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD AND CALL EVERYONE OUT AT THE SAME TIME.

  • Joe

    What a bunch of petty, trifling, SOBs. No wonder this city has so many problems when the council members are more focused on illegally subsidized vacations than doing their actual work. And not surprising it's crooks like Orange, Evans, Alexander and Barry who are some of the worst.

  • http://joeflood.com Joe Flood

    These people are as stupid as they are corrupt. Don't they know that these kind of records are public information, accessible by any concerned citizen or intrepid reporter? But I guess councilmembers have a sense of entitlement that overrides any intelligence or sense of decorum.

  • Watchdog

    So much for these council members being GOOD STEWARDS OF TAXPAYER DOLARS. They all need to be fired. A new crop cannot be worse. I have seen these clowns in their daily routine capacities -- they are a bunch of twits. Correction: Arrogant twits.

  • nowaitadaminit

    WHY DO PEOPLE LIVE IN A CITY WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS FOR WHICH AND OR WHOM THEY HAVE SUCH DISDAIN??????

  • Drez

    Great. Now we have a floor for how much public money Orange spent to bed his council staff employee, and it's a lot.
    But those photos still read to me like she's just not that into him.

  • DC

    Who gives a crap about film business? Seriously, it is such a tiny sliver of our economy that primarily benefits VA and MD workers. It's obvious that the fervor that politicians have for attracting it has more to do with them being star struck.

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  • michaeliceman

    While I agree that the recent crop of Councilmembers had some "issues," we do realize that these sorts of boondoggles are pretty common in EVERY major city. Although I generally see these things for what they are, the trip to Vegas has actually resulted in tangible benefits to the District. Most of the national retailers and retail developers are there and almost every major American city is represented also. Now, I do not think that half the Council (and their staffs) need to go and I do not think that a Council member should be in $420/night hotels, but that trip is ok with me. Going to LA to tour a studio....not so much.

  • Dan

    Why is this being reported? Alot of nothing.

  • Alf

    @To the Contrary

    Yes, you are correct that Washington DC as our Nation's Capital is already very attractive to motion picture producers. What the city needs to do is be 'logistics-friendly' to film making and otherwise get out of the way. It does not need to offer financial incentives because it has -- for film makers wanting the federal capital location -- what no other city has. However, I can think of no better way to screw up Washington's chances to attract movies than sending a stupid buffoon like Vincent Orange out to woo Hollywood.

  • nowaitadaminit

    What's wrong Alf?
    Think Hollywood would look down on one of the people DC elected to it's City Council more than once?

    Believe me, the shit that goes down in Hollywood makes DC politics look like Nursery School play time.

    Why are so many people always ready to cast aspersions on our ele........Never mind. I already know why.

  • Alf

    Well, I think that pretty much anyone outside DC (and many within our fair city) would look down on Orange as a buffoon -- shady, self-aggrandizing, temper-tantrum throwing, perpetual candidate and PEPCO lobbyist that he is.

    Orange has been elected a couple of times, but he's run like, what, 100 times? And his pal Barry's been elected 10 times. 'Nuff said.

  • nowaitadaminit

    No!!! Nuff said when you add the fact that SOMEBODY likes them. They kept getting elected. I can name a few who have run many, many times and never gotten the brass ring.

    What is you beef with Orange and Barry? What about the hypocrite Cheh, the double dipping Catania and Evans? I like the Elton John looking Graham so I'll leave him out of the equation.

  • T

    Put them on a travel budget.

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