Orange Goes to Bat for Campaign Donor Over Parking Meter Contract
Because of the high-stakes topic at hand, Mary Cheh made witnesses swear an oath to tell the truth. David Grosso considered abandoning his long-held opposition, just this once, to voting on city contracts. Monday's transportation committee hearing on the management of city parking meters, in other words, was more dramatic than usual.
"This may be the type of mischief that arises from Council approval of contracts," Cheh lamented.
The alleged mischief-maker? At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, who opposes giving the contract to Xerox and whose mayoral campaign, incidentally, took a bundled $20,000 from Rockville-based Xerox competitor WorldWide Parking last month.
Orange, who isn't a member of the transportation committee, showed up at the dais to oppose and echo WorldWide president Marc Meisel's demands that the contract should be rebid, with the savings potentially rerouted to education.
That's despite WorldWide losing its appeal to the Contract Appeals Board over the five-year, $33 million contract because the board found that, although its bid was lower than Xerox's, the Rockville firm couldn't match Xerox's ability to provide performance pricing.
Orange's advocacy on behalf of a recent campaign donor didn't go unnoticed, with Cheh asking Meisel why his company had given so money Orange (along with $5,000 to Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser and $18,000 to Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who are also running for mayor). Meisel answered that he was just trying to support the candidates.
Orange replied with a political-influence question of his own, asking developer Pedro Alfonso, whose company is a Certified Business Enterprise partner with Xerox on the contract, what he intended to get out of his own donations to political candidates, including Orange. Alfonso said that if he had given $20,000 to a candidate, he definitely would expect some help with contracts.
Later, Alfonso, no stranger to political connection himself, lamented how brazenly he thought WorldWide and Orange worked together.
"Could you wait and get the councilmember to argue your case and then give him the money?" Alfonso said, adding that Orange's actions amounted to "painful prostitution."
Grosso echoed Alfonso's disappointment with Orange's opposition to the bill, which is headed for a full Council vote tomorrow. "Everything he's done is legal," Grosso said afterward. "That's the problem."
After the hearing, Orange defended his interest in the bill, saying that he's interested in the contract no matter who his campaign donors are. As evidence, he passed out a letter dated Aug. 8, 2012 that he had written about the contract—more than 15 months before he would receive the $20,000 from people and companies associated with WorldWide.
The letter may not make Orange look as disinterested as he claims, though. Two weeks before Orange wrote his letter alleging that the meter bid solicitation could have been botched, his 2012 at-large campaign received $6,000 in donations from companies sharing an address with WorldWide Parking.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery