Loose Lips

Lobbyist John Ray Has A Special Friend in Vincent Orange

LL_Orange-1 (1)In June 2011, lobbyist John Ray found himself on the wrong side of the D.C. Council dais. Once a councilmember himself, he was back as one of the Wilson Building’s top lobbyists, testifying against a bill by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh that would wrest away his client Joe Mamo’s tight grip on many of the District’s gas stations.

Ray had even brought a letter from the Rev. Jesse Jackson supporting his position, but Cheh suspected the civil rights icon didn’t know as much about the intricacies of gasoline wholesaling as his letter suggested.

“You, Mr. Mamo or Mr. Ray, ginned up this letter,” Cheh said.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson, also at the committee hearing, seemed just as eager to pass the bill that spelled doom—or at least a less lucrative business—for Ray’s client. Still, Ray had one councilmember in the room that he could work with: Vincent Orange.

Orange wasn’t alone in opposing Cheh’s bill. The Washington Post editorial board and Congressional Black Caucus were also against it. But he was the only member of the Council to get an email from Ray associate Tina Ang that day telling him what to say.

Ray, Ang wrote to Orange, wanted to be asked about the letter from Jackson. When Orange got his turn to question the witnesses, he did what he was told. “Can you speak to this letter, please, for the record?” Orange asked Ray.

The question let Ray cast Mamo as a civil rights crusader triumphing in the white-dominated gas business. It also left other councilmembers insisting to Mamo, who would later be sued by D.C. for anti-competitive practices, that the bill wasn’t aimed at him.

Mendelson would call Orange’s loyalty to Mamo “an embarrassment.” But Mamo, Ray, and Orange won eight months later, when Cheh’s bill died on a 6-6 vote.

Ray’s relationship with Orange is nothing new. The Post’s Colby King wondered in 2006, following the disclosure of $15,000 in campaign contributions from Ray and his wife to Orange, how much “Orange’s open door to Ray is heavily greased with greenbacks.” New emails obtained by LL through Freedom of Information Act requests show just how open that door is, with Orange asking for Ray’s advice on dealing with a scandal in the wake of an FBI raid on alleged Mayor Vince Gray shadow-campaign financier Jeff Thompson and Ang asking Orange to “lean on” colleagues about the Mamo bill.

Ray, who served on the Council from 1979 to 1996, is now one of D.C.’s most active local lobbyists. In 2013, Ray’s firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips lobbied for eight clients, including Mamo and Bazilio Cobb, the accounting firm once co-owned by Thompson.

In return for paying Ray, clients get an inside look at Wilson Building string-pulling. Ray and Ang regularly asked Orange to persuade his fellow councilmembers on bills for Manatt clients. Looking for a tax break for a 14th Street NW apartment building, Ang emailed Orange and then-Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., asking them to try to win over colleagues Kwame Brown or Yvette Alexander. In an email about Cheh’s Mamo bill, Ang asked Orange to “please help us lean on other [councilmembers] too.”

Orange declined multiple requests for comment about individual emails, saying only that his relationship with Ray dates to before Orange entered politics. Ray and Ang kept quiet, too, except for a one-sentence statement saying they would talk if LL requests their emails with the entire Council. (LL’s documents do cover the whole Council for 2011, but only Orange for later years.)

Keeping Orange working means anticipating his flights of fancy. Ray’s staff requested an early copy of Orange’s November proposal for a study to develop the area around RFK Stadium into a sprawling PGA golf course/100,000-seat domed stadium/waterpark/movie soundstage. (What, no casino?) The firm took more direct action in 2012, after Orange endorsed the idea of a Michael Bloomberg–style ban on large sodas at an at-large debate.

Ang forwarded Orange an article about the soda ban and asked him to back off. “Happy Friday, VO!” Ang wrote. “Can you *please* not get too far out there on this one? Council must have more important issues to focus on than soft drinks.” Orange hasn’t made a public statement on a large soda ban since.

Despite his firm’s attempts to rein in Orange, Ray turns out to be the Forrest Gump of Orange’s more recent misadventures, making at least a cameo role in several of them.

Ray represented Sang Oh Choi, the Union Market–area developer and Orange campaign donor whose wholesale grocery store Orange protected, briefly, from a shutdown order by city health inspectors after they discovered rat feces close to vegetables. The incident earned Orange a settlement with the District’s ethics board, but Orange insisted last week that he would do it all again in an attempt to save jobs.

Ray was also copied on emails between Orange and Marc Meisel, the CEO of Rockville-based WorldWide Parking. Orange earned some notoriety from his efforts on the company’s behalf in December, when he threw all he could into preventing the Council from approving a contract for WorldWide rival Xerox. WorldWide had also bundled $20,000 to Orange’s mayoral campaign, a perhaps not-so-coincidental coincidence that Cheh lamented as the “mischief” that comes with the Council approving contracts. Ang says Meisel and his firm aren’t clients.

Ray counsels Orange on how to deal with scandals, too. After the FBI raided Thompson’s home and office in March 2012, reporters—and Orange—started to notice that people connected to Thompson had also contributed $26,000 in money orders and cashier’s checks to Orange’s own 2011 at-large campaign. Orange, an accountant, claimed to have missed the fact that many of the money orders were sequential and signed in the same handwriting.

The District’s Office of Campaign Finance seemed only mildly interested in the issue, with OCF’s report on the case saying they asked Orange if he thought anything shady was afoot, then dropped it when he said he didn’t. Despite that lukewarm endorsement, Orange yearned to proclaim his innocence. He sent Ray a copy of his draft press release on the OCF ruling that the lobbyist found too jubilant.

“Well, you know how I feel about what I think is a premature press release, unless you are willing to address the money order issue,” Ray wrote to Orange. “Regarding VO, this is the issue that is on the mind of the [sic]. Did he knowingly and willingly accept thousands of illegal contributions?”

Ray especially didn’t like Orange describing himself as “elated” after hearing that OCF cleared him: “This should be the mentality of someone who have always insisted his innocence.”

Orange didn’t take Ray’s suggestions and sent out the release without his revisions. The line about being “elated” stayed. Influence, apparently, only goes so far.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • DC Guy

    And VO thinks he is a serious candidate for mayor?

  • Gordon

    I cannot believe the editors of CP are allowing Sommer to create this garbage.

    These are everyday exchanges between politicians and lobbyist. No hint of breaking the law here.

    What is with this young Sommer. No journalist experience. His first job.

    He won't produce emails of other councimembers. The wrath of lawyers would be all over CP.

    This youngster is abusing the FOIA opportunity. He is creating a smear campaign of Orange.

    He needs to be sued and or fired.

    Its time to write the publisher.

  • Chris hauser

    Snews.

    If not already claimed, I dibs copyright.

  • Remi

    Orange is clearly not mayor material and his history would suggest that he would be a disaster as such.

    CP we applaud your courage. Mr. Sommer you clearly touched a nerve. Keep doing what you are.

    DC politicians have earned being questioned and pressed for their back room and status quo political modus operandi.

  • Casual Friday

    Good Will Hunting kudos for your work. Mr. orange needs to account for the way he conducts business and politics in our CITY.

    Mr. VO should have stayed at PEPCO or gone to work for his political patrons formally. He clearly is representing their interests instead of dc residents.

  • Ward 9

    CP just follow the money trails with VO. Between his lawyer and developer friends there is a pot of gold over the rainbow.

  • stick2yourguns

    vo is just like michael brown except his is not on film...."yet"

  • Green Eyeshade

    If CityPaper will give us a document dump of all those emails from all those others Councilmembers, we can crowd-source an investigation of who and what are pulling Councilmembers' strings.

  • Quiet as Kept

    Phil Mendelson has stock in Pepco

    Jack Evans holds outside employment as a consultant however he is never at the office

    Mary Cheh is a Professor of Law (wow how might that influence your students) at GW Law School

    Anita Bonds used to work for a construction company that still gets preferrential treatment from the council.

    David Catania holds outside employment.

    LL its time to even the playing field. These other politicians have connections and people that they rely on for support or advice as well.

    I've noticed that in the articles, Orange rarely responds to LL so that might ruffle his feathers a bit.

    Or perhaps its because VO is the only Lawyer on the council, so LL has to paint him to be a corrupt, self-serving politician because everything that VO does is within the law..

    I am a Ward 2 Resident as well, and I feel the entire council has dirt that can be communicated to us.

    Why not interview the people on Gray's former administration that are now in Jail or Sulaimon Brown.

  • Son of Washington

    Maybe you should check up to date stats or keep quite as kept. Catania gave up his outside job around a year or more ago.

    Cheh was a law school professor years before joining the Council and contintues to teach much like many members of congress. It actually is very logical as she actually looks at issues such as Constitutionality on a regular basis you dummy.

    Evans is an advisor for a legal firm. Unless you are following him around and have access to all of his interactions you can't speak on his work.

    As for Bonds, yes she used to be a Business Development Person for Ft. Myers Construction. The scary part is that my dog has as much power and pull on the Council as she does.

    Lastly, since you talk of who has outside work maybe you should pull up the actually legislative records of Catania, Cheh and Evans for the last 3 years. You will find that they have been some of the most active members of the actual council. Funny the folks with something else to do actually did more.

  • Zoroaster

    Why don't you ask Orange and his lawyer, if they called to intimidate dept of health officials to stop an important health inspection? Orange says he would do it again. You know why? Because Choi bros have their hooks on him and others in government service.

    CP keep up the excellent work. You are doing a service to District residents. Expose these frauds for what they are.

  • Quiet as Kept

    @SonofWashington I dont give a damn what explanation you have for me. If you are a politician and represent the citizens of DC, I expect for you to committ to a full-time position.

    The same way you claim Cheh has worked for GW before she was on the council, John Ray & VO have been friends WAY Before the political career.

    My newphew went to Bunker Hill Elementary School (yes public school, one of the best ever in the city) along with the John Ray & VOs kids so im not buying this bullcrap story CP/LL or wheoever is trying to sale.

    Evans is an advisor? A company has a gov't politician on their payroll and he is an advisor? If that doesnt smell fishy, I do not know what the hell does.

    I also do not want to hear your BS about Bonds not having any influence, she is a councilmember and worked for Barry and a huge construction company in the city. You are a fool to think she has no influence.

  • Typical DC BS

    @Son of Washington: MOST cities/states (which DC claims to want to be) do NOT allow outside employment of elected officials. It's called a conflict of interest. And MOST of these nitwits on the City Council have LOTS of conflicts. The scam they pull of calling their city council jobs "part-time" is laughable. By the way, they are among the HIGHEST PAID city councilmembers in the entire USA.

  • Quiet as Kept

    @typical PREACH! Son of Washington clearly has been bamboozled into rooting for the REAL CROOKS. Those who claim to represent the citizens of this city on a PART TIME BASIS yet, take FULL-TIME SALARY.

    Which if any of you all paid attention, VO brought the bill to eliminate outside employment AND THE REAL CROOKS WERE NOT HAPPY.

    LL doesn't want to put out real stories because

    Graham
    Evans
    Catania
    Cheh
    Bowser

    will all get exposed. You take those people off the council, and east of the river will have more resources, opportunities, and appeal like West of the River

  • cminus

    @QuietasKept, Orange is not the only lawyer on the Council. Catania, Cheh, Evans, Graham, Grosso, and McDuffie all have JDs and have practiced law. If by "lawyer" you mean "currently in legal practice", that lets out everyone except Evans -- but then you'd have to count out Orange too.

  • Quiet as Kept

    @cminus your correct, I meant to say he is the only lawyer and CPA on the council. Kenyan McDuffie used to work for Orange back in the day as well.

  • noodlez

    @HAUSER-NICE! AND SPOT ON!

    VO IS DOOMED! D.O.A.! HIS MAYORAL ANNOUNCE SHOULD BE THAT HE IS NOT RUNNING AT THIS TIME AND ALL DONATIONS WILL GO TOWARDS BUILDING HIS MEGA STUPID-ENOUS ORANGEDROME.

    HERE IS ANOTHER BAMMA THAT GOTS TA GO! THIS CHUMP WITH HIS QUIET BUT LOUD "LOOK AT ME I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING FOR THE CITY BUT I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING AGAINST THE CITY EITHER" WALK THROUGH THE COUNCIL.

    WE SEE YOU VO TIP TOEING THRU THE TULIPS!
    GETTING CLOWNED BY WEBSITES IN YOUR NAME.
    TRYING TO OUT DO GLADYS AS A PIP.

    YOU ARE ORANGE. YOU ARE BLACK.
    MAKE YOU MIND UP SON. OHH U CAN'T?
    I SEE WHY YOUR MAYORAL CAMPAIGN THUS FAR IS WACK.

    CURIOUS TO SEE WHAT WILL BE YOUR LAPEL PIN.
    YOU LOST WARD 5 RACE. BARELY WON AT LARGE.
    ITS A SHAME YOUR SORRY ASS IS RUNNING AGAIN?

  • Fried Rice

    @noodlez Orange is the reason the minimum wage has gone up, its Gray's fault that it goes up in increments and that Wal-Mart treated DC like a hoe when it came to negotiations.

    Gray hasn't done anything for the city nor has he done anything for East of the River.. He is only good at ribbon cuttings and being silent when they wave the soap-string in his face.

    Orange beat Harry Sr. for Ward 5, Orange didn't lose ward 5 throughout his duration as a CM. He ran for Mayor instead of another term for Ward 5 CM.

    Lastly, Orange's contributions to Ward 5 >>>>>> Any councilmember's contributions East of the River except Barry.

    The fool you voted for against Orange for Chairman got locked up....

    So you can be an idiot if you want to, or do your research to see who is more valuable.

    Yes, Orange can be wild at times, but all of his setbacks affect only him.

    Gray has gotten people jailtime, and has been an embarassment for the city.

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