Former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown says he struck a job deal with Vincent Gray campaign
Former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown told The Washington Post that he struck a deal last summer with the campaign of Mayor Vincent C. Gray to continue his attacks on incumbent Adrian M. Fenty in exchange for a city job if Gray won.
Brown, who was recently dismissed from his $110,000-a-year position with the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance, also alleges that two Gray campaign aides gave him a series of cash payments to help finance his campaign. The Post could not independently verify any payments.
In an interview Saturday, Gray adamantly denied Brown’s allegations, saying the campaigns did not work in tandem. He said he agreed only to get a job interview for Brown, but not in return for attacks on Fenty.
“Was there a quid pro quo here? Did we ask him to do something on behalf of my candidacy, and did we give him something? The answer is unequivocally no,” said Gray, who added that he was not aware of any payments to Brown by campaign aides. “I want to make sure there’s no sunshine here. I didn’t ask anybody to do it. I didn’t tell anybody to do it. I didn’t authorize anybody to do it.”
A Post review of Brown’s cellphone records between June and the Sept. 14 Democratic primary shows that he received 29 calls from numbers belonging to Gray, campaign chairman Lorraine Green, campaign consultant Howard Brooks and a Gray personal aide. Through January, 17 of Brown’s incoming and outgoing calls with those numbers ranged from 5 minutes to 17 minutes, according to the records.
Also, text messages from Brown’s cellphone in November and December underscore his frustration as he questioned whether the Gray campaign would keep what Brown said was a promise of a job. The response from Gray’s cellphone assured Brown that no agreement had been “breached.”
Brown said he received payments from Green and Brooks.
Green, who headed Gray’s transition team, denied ever paying Brown and said she once talked to him about potentially working in the administration. “Really? I gave him cash payments? I don’t even really know this man. This is ridiculous,” she said. “Just as other people came to us during the campaign . . . he wanted to be considered for a job.”
When asked in a second interview about the number of calls between the two of them, Green said she generally returns calls out of courtesy and answers her phone without knowing who is calling.
Brooks initially said he met Brown during town hall meetings and didn’t remember calling him. Told about the phone records, Brooks said that he talked to several candidates during the election and that he reached out to Brown to compliment him on his performance during a debate. “He came off the stage, and I told him how clever it was,” said Brooks, who declined to comment further without an attorney present.
On paid leave
Brown is currently on paid administrative leave until March 11, when he is to be terminated as a special assistant with the Department of Health Care Finance. Sources said administration officials became alarmed that a 2007 restraining order against Brown involved allegations of stalking a 13-year-old girl. Brown has denied knowledge of the stalking allegation.
Gray had defended Brown’s hiring, which was first reported last month in a Post article about high salaries and political hires.
Brown, 40, father of an infant son, grew up in the District and said he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting by working his way through the University of the District of Columbia. District government personnel records show he was a UDC police officer in 2005. He said he then took internships with accounting firms.
During the election, Brown drew attention at debates by urging voters to cast ballots for Gray and harshly criticizing incumbent Fenty. Cellphone records show Brown began reaching out to Gray on June 17, with more than two dozen calls through June 23.
Brown said he and Gray talked that day as they waited to participate in a candidates forum at Howard University. Brown said he told Gray he was having financial troubles. “Savings were bleeding fast . . . and I wasn’t working,” Brown told the Post.
He said Gray told him that Green, one of the mayor’s closest friends, would contact him. Brown said Green gave him her cellphone number at the forum, and records show Brown reached out to her the next day.
Brown said they arranged to meet in the lobby at Union Station, where Green is an executive at Amtrak, which announced Friday that she will retire April 1. “She expressed pleasure with the way the campaign was going. What was I looking for?” Brown said. “Something to that effect.”
“I told her it was hard running the campaign because I wasn’t working. She said, ‘We can take care of that,’ ” Brown said.
Brown said he told her that he wanted jobs for him and his brother and requested his salary fall between $125,000 and $150,000. “She said that was doable,” Brown said.
Green said she remembers meeting with Brown and talking to him about his background as an auditor. She said she told him that he would have to “qualify” to be hired. “I’m an HR professional. I don’t promise people jobs,” Green said.
But Brown said Green began giving him money to help him stay on the campaign trail and continue his attacks on Fenty. Brown said Green told him: “We like what you’re doing. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ ” Green, he said, gave him about $750 in an envelope.
Brown said he got payments through the September primary, but he did not know how much money he received. Brown said he spent the money as fast he got it. “It was definitely thousands. It was not hundreds,” he said.
One evening in late July, Brown went to meet Green at Union Station, where he recalled also meeting Brooks. “I actually was surprised to see someone,” he said. “There was a guy in the car. Light-skinned. Glasses. Scrubby beard. I was a little hesitant to speak at first.”
“She said, ‘It’s okay. You can speak in front of him,’ ” Brown said.
He said Green gave him another envelope. “He’ll be taking care of you from now on,” he said Green told him.
In a written statement, Green called the allegations a “smear campaign” and said Brown sent “disturbing text messages which I have turned over to the proper authorities.”
“I have also retained an attorney to look into initiating legal action against Mr. Brown for the libelous, scandalous statements he is making to the news media and others against me,” she said in the statement.
On July 30, Brown received his first call from Brooks’s cellphone number, at 2:03 p.m.
He said Brooks would call and say, “I got something for you.” Brown recalled Brooks holding his suit jacket at a forum, only for it to be returned with an envelope in the pocket. A few times, Brown said, they met in a parking lot across from Gray’s downtown campaign headquarters on Sixth Street NW.
Brown received 10 phone calls from Brooks’s cellphone from July 30 through Sept. 5, according to the records. The calls lasted one to two minutes.
Brooks, who campaign finance records show earned $44,000 to work on Gray’s campaign, including a $30,000 payment on Nov. 8, denied any such exchanges.
Gray said he “never had any conversation with Howard Brooks about any engagement with Sulaimon Brown. . . . Whatever he did interacting with Sulaimon Brown, he did it on his own.”
Cellphone records show several phone calls between Brown and numbers belonging to Gray and Green in July. On July 15, Brown called Gray’s number at 6:45 p.m. for a call that lasted three minutes. Another call went out to Green at 6:48 p.m. In three back-to-back calls, they appeared to talk for 19 minutes. At 9:57 p.m., Brown received a call from Gray’s cellphone number, and they appeared to talk for 14 minutes.
Gray said Saturday that he didn’t remember the phone call. “I honestly don’t have a clue what that was about,” he said. “I don’t know if I had any other conversations with him other than when I saw him at forums.”
Although Brown received only 209 votes in the primary, he proved able to incite anti-Fenty crowds during debates with a signature line: “Go Brown. Go Gray. Go any color. But please, don’t go Fenty.”
By the end of the summer, Fenty appeared to get more and more worn down. On Aug. 9, Fenty was clearly shaken by Brown’s comments in a Ward 8 debate where Brown told the crowd that Fenty probably did not respect his parents. “I’ve been attacked a lot by this candidate over here. I’ve never responded, but I would just ask all of my people running for mayor, all the other candidates who are running, he just said he doesn’t know whether I respect my parents. At some point, you all, we’re crossing the line.”
On Saturday, Gray said he found Brown’s comments “offensive.”
‘Has our friendship ended?’
As the Democratic primary neared and polls showed Gray with a solid lead, Brown said he felt Gray and the others on his campaign distancing themselves. In October, Brown’s calls to and from cell numbers for Gray, Green and Brooks dropped precipitously, according to the records. “I gave up,” he said.
After the election, Brown said he had his eye on a paid position with Gray’s transition team, but he said he was never offered that type of job. Instead, he was one of hundreds of volunteers and worked on the economic development committee.
That frustrated Brown, and he called Gray, Green and Brooks more often, according to the phone records. The records show he called Brooks’s number Nov. 15 in a call that lasted 12 minutes. On Nov. 29, he called Green’s number in a call that lasted 11 minutes.
On the same day, he expressed frustration in several text messages to Gray’s number. “I was hoping for a paid transition position with responsibilities, not a volunteer role. I think I’ve earned it. . . . Also, what exactly is my job going to be in Janurary? . . . My position is simple. Do we still have an agreement and will it be honored? My brotber and I are counting on you to keep your word . . .”
Brown worried that Green and Gray were backing out of their deal, according to an interview with Brown and text messages that he provided to The Post. “If I sound upset. I am. Because without me. All of us would be packing our bags right now. My effort on the campaign made the difference between winning and loosing,” he wrote on Nov. 29. “I was clear from the beginning what I wanted, which is not much for what I put in.”
Brown received this response from Gray’s phone number: “I find this unbelievable!!! This is an outrageous insult and I resent you sending me something as inflammatory and off-base as this.”
But Brown dug in. The next day, he sent Gray more messages: “Lorain told me I was not part of your campaign. Imagine that. . . . That was an insult. . . . I resent the whole conversation with her and after what I’ve done for you. That was outrageous. . . . Good luck!”
After that, Brown received this response from Gray’s cell: “Your position is an outrage. I am not even in office yet. The things you said are outrageous and there is no excuse for that. You know as well as I do that . . . we did not renege on any commitments to you. You know and we know what agreements had been reached. And none has been breached.”
Gray told The Post that he was referring to the job interview, not the promise of a position in his administration.
On Dec. 18, Brown asked in a message to Gray’s number: “Has our friendship ended?”
He received this response from Gray’s number: “I have told you and Lorraine has told you we intend to carry out our commitment. Yet, nothing we say ever seems enough.”
Brown’s phone records show he reached out to Brooks, Green and Gray on Jan. 6 through 8.
E-mails show that by Jan. 10, Brown was exchanging e-mails with the Gray administration about a potential job with the Office of Inspector General. But that job was already filled.
Gray said the Inspector General’s Office is an independent agency, and he said that supports his position that he promised Brown only an interview.
By Jan. 31, Brown had a job as a special assistant in the Department of Health Care Finance. In an e-mail to a member of Gray’s staff, he wrote: “. . . Today went well, I attended the orientation session at 441 4th st. I’m so grateful and appreciative of your efforts in making this happen. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I got your back! Thank you. Regards, Sulaimon.”
But Brown’s tenure was short-lived. In the same week that a City Paper story questioned the Gray administration’s decision to hire Brown because of past legal troubles — including a 1991 gun charge that was later dropped and a 1995 guilty plea to an unlawful entry charge that he said involved a dispute over trespassing — he was dismissed.
On Feb. 24, one day after Gray defended Brown’s hiring, Wayne Turnage, director of health care finance, told Brown that he wasn’t a “good fit” for the agency.
Staff writers Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis and staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this story.