Bowser defends her actions in Park Southern takeover controversy

Rival in mayor’s race questions her involvement


The front gate of the Park Southern complex is bent and broken. The Park Southern Towers has many maintenance-related problems due to negligence and lack of care. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee for District mayor, called the dilapidated condition of Park Southern Apartments “disgusting” and said she is “comfortable” with the city’s investigation of the property.

In a lengthy radio interview on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU (88.5 FM) on Friday, the D.C. Council member from Ward 4 offered her most extensive comments yet about Park Southern, a towering apartment complex on the District’s southern border that has rodent infestations, crumbling pipes and a defaulted, city-backed mortgage.

The property’s condition and the default, which prompted the city to seize control of it in April, was described this week in The Washington Post.

Bowser was drawn into the controversy this spring when she met with city housing officials and questioned their takeover of Park Southern. She also requested a meeting between city officials and Rowena Joyce Scott, the president of the nonprofit corporation that owns the apartments. Scott is a Bowser supporter and a longtime Democratic activist in Southeast Washington — prompting accusations from Bowser’s political opponents that she had intervened to protect a campaign supporter at the expense of the complex’s 700 residents.

Bowser has denied that she acted improperly — and she elaborated on that on the radio Friday.

“When I was made aware of the government’s involvement in Park Southern, I did what I do with all problems that come to me, whether they be housing or some other constituent issue, and that is to call all the people to the table,” she said.

Bowser, who this week called for an inspector general’s investigation into the default and its handling, deflected questions about why her council committee, which has oversight over housing, rebuffed repeated requests by the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) to hold a public hearing. “The cleanest way to make sure we have all the answers is to do what I have done: Have the inspector general, who is independent from the executive, independent from the council, who’s armed with investigators and auditors, to get to the bottom of that case,” she said.

On one key point in the radio interview Friday with Nnamdi and WRC-TV (Channel 4) political reporter Tom Sherwood, Bowser’s comments did not jibe with documents and e-mail correspondence obtained by The Post. She said repeatedly that her questions about the takeover of Park Southern had been answered by the administration during a closed-door meeting in early May.

At one point, she said that the “executive had a plan that I was comfortable with, that they presented me with at that meeting, and that plan was to get a property manager in place.”

And at another, she said that the May 8 meeting with Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) officials showed her the city was “proceeding with getting that building in order.”

In fact, more than a week later, on May 19, Bowser’s office sent a letter to the Gray administration following up on her request for an explanation of the city’s “legal power as a lender” to hire a new management company.

And on June 3, Judah Gluckman, an aide to Bowser, sent an e-mail to a senior assistant attorney general, asking for a legal opinion “demonstrating DHCD’s legal right to seize Park Southern documents and space, as well as to select a new management company.”

Scott has said the city-installed property manager, Vesta Corp., took control of sensitive company financial records. It also dismantled a makeshift sanctuary that Scott, a minister, had constructed in the apartment’s community room, to the chagrin of many residents.

In an interview with The Post on Friday, Bowser said she never questioned the need for the city to take over the property, which has fallen into deep disrepair and is $628,000 behind in mortgage payments. She said follow-up actions by her office were aimed at questioning the manner in which Gray did so, using one private company to supplant another instead of using city housing officials or law enforcement officers to smooth the transition and lend credibility to the takeover.

“That question still needs to be answered,” Bowser said. “God forbid we have another situation like this, I want to make sure the government is proceeding according to the law.”

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who is running against Bowser for mayor in November as an independent, has accused Bowser of seeking to intervene in the Park Southern matter to protect Scott and Phinis Jones, another campaign supporter who worked as Scott’s property manager this spring.

Catania’s campaign began circulating a mailer Friday featuring a picture of the sprawling Park Southern towers and accusing Bowser of having “turned her back on Ward 8 residents who complained of mold, rodents, and dangerous water leaks all to protect top campaign supporters.”

Asked by Sherwood if she thought the Park Southern issue had hurt her campaign, Bowser said, “No, we have stayed focused on our campaign. . . . This is not what people in the District of Columbia are talking about.”

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local