But the at-large council member now finds himself trying to explain his relationship with Jeffrey E. Thompson, a former city contractor under federal investigation who is alleged to have funneled $653,000 into a clandestine operation that helped Vincent C. Gray’s successful mayoral campaign in 2010.
Orange is running to hold on to the seat he won in a special election in April 2011, when he accepted $26,000 in money-order donations from Thompson that he now says he considers “suspicious.” The money orders — some bought at the same post office and filled out in similar handwriting — have been linked to Thompson and public relations consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in the federal probe into Gray’s campaign.
He publicly released copies of the money orders shortly after reporters noted irregularities in donations to his campaign and after FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the homes and offices of Thompson and Harris in March.
Orange said in an interview that neither he nor his campaign staff has received a subpoena for campaign finance records. But throughout his reelection campaign, he has had to address the issue. “There’s not one single penny from Jeff Thompson in this race,” Orange said.
Orange, 55, has raised about $18,000 for the general election, when voters will fill two at-large seats — one held by Orange and the other held by Michael A. Brown (I). One seat is reserved for a non-Democrat.
That Orange, a lawyer and accountant originally from Oakland, is the only Democrat in the race gives him an advantage. The city’s electorate is overwhelmingly Democratic, and turnout among Democrats is expected to be high because of the presidential election. “I’m in great company, running with the president and Eleanor,” he said, referring to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). “That’s the Democratic ticket.”
But Orange and Brown are facing pointed questions from opponents and debate moderators. Brown, son of the late U.S. commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown, has been under intense scrutiny concerning his personal finances. He has failed to pay his rent, mortgage and taxes on time, and he recently said that $113,950 was stolen from his campaign account.
Orange has sought to underscore Brown’s troubles. In June, when they competed for the position of council chairman pro tempore — which Brown won — Orange pointed to his colleague’s tax problems and a past conviction for an election-law misdemeanor.
Brown’s and Orange’s election opponents — Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, Statehood Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox, and independents A.J. Cooper, David Grosso and Leon Swain — have tried tapping into the disenchantment of many voters over federal investigations into city officials and campaigns.