Latest D.C. mayoral candidate is locked in city contracting disputes

(Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)
Christian A. Carter touts his deep District roots. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

Ask the District’s latest mayoral hopeful, 30-year-old first-time candidate Christian A. Carter, how he expects to compete in a field with three D.C. Council members, a veteran federal official and potentially an incumbent mayor, he manages to straddle the rather broad line between humble and cocky.

“I shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath” as Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Reta Lewis and Tommy Wells, the Hillcrest businessman admitted in a Saturday interview, before adding that he has “a much better advocacy platform that any of these candidates” and “just because I’ve been behind the scenes doesn’t mean I don’t understand politics.”

He’s got the oneupsmanship part of it down, anyway: In a town where politicos are fond of branding themselves as “native Washingtonians,” Carter goes a few steps further making his status a “Seventh Generation Washingtonian” a prominent part of his campaign pitch. He mentioned on several occasions his aunt, Lillian D. Green, the late Adams Morgan community activist.

A graduate of D.C. Public Schools, Carter attended but did not graduate from Cheyney University in Pennsylvania then returned to D.C. to go into business as a construction subcontractor and, later, a government staffing consultant — more on that in a second.

In a conversation ahead of his campaign kickoff Saturday, he laid out a three-pronged campaign pitch, focused on guaranteeing that development doesn’t displace public housing residents, increasing government outreach to neighborhoods and making sure the demographics of the public school systems more closely matches the city’s.

Carter said it made sense to launch his political career by jumping into the deep end of the pool, eschewing a smaller office for a run at the mayoralty. “I feel as though as a council member I would be caught up in the politics; I would be caught up with 12 other council members,” he said. “As mayor, I will be able to put together an administration that shows what I stand for and allows me to really truly help the residents of D.C.”

That’s said, he’s getting a quick introduction to the scrutiny afforded a citywide candidate. Carter’s kickoff Saturday, an afternoon event at the Hill Center complete with balloons and finger food, was clouded by questions about his work as a city contractor.

Carter’s business, New Columbia Enterprises, is a certified business enterprise that has won several city staffing contracts. In other words, agencies have hired Carter to in turn hire specialists for jobs that the city doesn’t want to hire full-time employees for.

But some of Carter’s subcontractors say he hasn’t paid them the money they’re owed, while Carter counters that’s because the city has refused to pay him what he’s owed. The dispute has risen as far up as the mayor’s office, with Gray’s chief of staff Christopher K. Murphy personally intervening in the disputes, according to e-mails between the two.

An aide to Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services B.B. Otero crashed the event Saturday to have Carter sign papers meant to clear up the dispute and get his subcontractors paid. And among those attending Carter’s campaign launch was one of the subcontractors who says he’s not paid up.

Susie Cambria, a veteran youth advocate, said she has gotten only a portion of the $90,000 she is owed for work developing the yearly “children’s budget” and other work for the deputy mayor’s office — work, she says, that Carter has already been paid for. “Almost as soon as I went in to sign the contract, there were problems,” she said.

Carter says Cambria’s money is tied up in his ongoing dispute with the city over as much as $100,000 owed to him for three contracts. “As soon as the government gives me my money, she’ll have hers,” he said.

Carter added that his trouble dealing with the city is one of the reasons, but not the only reason, he chose to pursue a mayoral run. “This is not about me,” he said. “What this situation did is it showed me what other people were going through.”

Update, 6:55 p.m.: Murphy says in an e-mail: “For over a month we have attempted to work with Mr. Carter to resolve both any funding the District government may owe him as well as payments we know he owes his subcontractors. And for over a month he has refused to communicate with us or take a single constructive step towards reaching a solution. And we have documentation to prove it. For him to now claim that the District is intentionally withholding payments to him is simply a lie and speaks volumes about his credibility and his integrity.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · July 22, 2013