Jim Graham admits ‘lapse,’ says he’s still outpolling challengers

Updated 12/16 with correction

Four days after making a belated reelection announcement, Jim Graham appeared on WAMU-FM’s Politics Hour on Friday to atone a little and boast a little.

First, the atonement: Graham expanded on his half-regrets expressed earlier this week on NewsChannel 8 (“I certainly wish I hadn’t said what I said, if I said it”) for the 2008 episode that ended in a scathing Metro report, an ethics admonishment, a council reprimand and an ongoing lawsuit.

Graham is alleged to have made comments in a private meeting with businessman Warren Williams Jr., offering support for Williams’s lottery contract bid in return for him withdrawing from a Metro real estate project. Graham has denied breaking any laws, but has said he may have made a comment that was misinterpreted by Williams. On Friday, Graham admitted the episode represented a “lapse” on his part that would not be repeated. That also went, he said, for his decision regarding a cash bribe offered though his former chief of staff that he rejected but did not report to authorities.

“You learn as you go,” he said. “If such a thing happened today, there’s no doubt in my mind what I would do.”

Now, on to the boasting: Graham said he is a shoo-in for re-nomination in the April 1 Democratic primary, citing polling done by his exploratory campaign showing him with 37 percent support among Ward 1 voters compared to single-digit showings for competitors Brianne Nadeau, Bryan Weaver and Beverley Wheeler. Graham said more than half of voters viewed him favorably.

The results should be treated with care for many reasons, starting with the fact that it was an automated telephone poll that reached only landlines, and continuing to the fact that Graham has not made the full poll results and questionnaire available for review. [Correction, 12/16: The poll did reach some cellphones, Graham said. Live callers contacted mobile numbers to comply with federal restrictions on automated phone calls.]

And the poll now figures into a campaign dust-up after observers, including Politics Hour co-host Tom Sherwood, noted that the poll did not show up on his exploratory committee’s finance report filed with city campaign authorities this week.

That prompted this blast from Nadeau, his best-financed and longest-standing competitor: “Ward 1 needs a new leader focused on ethics reform, not one focused on explaining away ethics lapses. This is yet another example of the kind of ethical gray area that Graham so squarely occupies.”

Graham, in a Friday afternoon interview, said there is an innocent explanation for the missing poll spending: His campaign treasurer has yet to write a check for the poll. “I thought he paid them, because nobody complained,” Graham said. “He’s going to pay them today.”

The treasurer, Nelson Ayala, did not immediately return a call for comment Friday; campaign finance regulations require a committee to report debts and obligations alongside actual expenditures. Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, said if a committee has received a bill but has not yet paid it, a debt should be reported until it is paid.

Graham rejected Nadeau’s characterization of the poll reporting: “There’s no lapse of any kind, because the committee still exists. It has the ability to pay. So what’s the big deal? The treasurer neglected to write the check. I don’t think that’s a lapse of any kind.”

He added, “She should be more concerned by the 4 percent she’s getting in the poll.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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Mike DeBonis · December 13, 2013

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