Concerned that the District has among the highest fuel prices in the nation, the council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment in July approved Cheh’s legislation, which was widely expected to come to up for a full council vote this month.
But Cheh has struggled to round up a majority because of growing skepticism from mostly African American council members concerned that the bill unfairly targets a successful black entrepreneur.
“The case hasn’t been made that Joe Mamo is causing gas prices to be higher than neighboring jurisdictions,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large). “After participating in the hearing, it’s very clear to me we should be supporting businesses like Joe Mamo’s.”
Mamo could not be reached for comment Wednesday but has previously denied that he is responsible for setting prices at the pump. He has donated $40,000 to District candidates in the past decade, including $1,500 to Orange.
Mamo is also well connected in national political circles — donating $12,000 to Democratic members of Congress or presidential candidates since 2000. Mamo and his family have also contributed $25,000 to the Keep Hope Alive Political Action Committee, which is affiliated with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition.
Over the summer, the Rainbow Push Coalition urged the council to reject Cheh’s bill, arguing in a letter that it “appears to be aimed at only one business.”
“It is unfair and over-reaching government interference,” read the letter, submitted on stationery identifying Jackson as president of the coalition and “Martin L. King” as chairman. “The District should be a beacon for minority business participation and not a barrier to it.”
This month, some council members said they were also stunned by a letter from the Congressional Black Caucus urging the bill be rejected because it was “threatening’” Mamo’s livelihood as a minority business owner and undermined recent legal and political gains to get more minorities in the petroleum industry.
“We . . . believe the gains made through the hard work of civil rights groups and others should not be wiped out by such legislation,” said the letter said, signed by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), CBC chairman, and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), secretary.
A week later, amid concerns from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) about congressional meddling in District affairs, the CBC sent another letter saying the previous one should be “disregarded” because it was sent because of a “staff error.”