Profile of Lorraine Green, D.C. Mayor Gray’s campaign chairwoman
By Nikita Stewart,
The day after Vincent C. Gray won the District’s mayoral Democratic primary last year, campaign chairwoman Lorraine Green took over.
In the next few months, protege Gerri Mason Hall became the mayor’s chief of staff, making $200,000 a year — exceeding the city’s salary cap.
Green’s daughter was hired as a senior communications manager in the city’s film office.
A former business associate and campaign consultant, Howard Brooks, was paid $44,000 in campaign fees. Green and Brooks were involved in a failed bid to operate the city’s computerized lottery.
Green was, by all accounts, the most influential person around the mayor, but if Sulaimon Brown is to be believed, her powerhouse role might have begun months earlier, with a phone call.
To hear Brown tell it, he called her June 24 to ask for help. He was challenging Gray in the Democratic primary, making a name for himself attacking Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and running out of money. Brown said Green told him to meet her at her office in Union Station, where she worked as Amtrak’s vice president for human resources. It was then, Brown said, that Green gave him the first of several payments.
Gray, Green and Brooks have disputed Brown’s allegations, and The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify any payments.
What is not disputed is Green’s close and long friendship with Gray, which began when they were employed by the District and gives her direct access to the mayor. Twenty years later, she is at the center of Gray’s tumultuous first three months in office, swirling in criticism of cronyism and nepotism — including the hiring of children of campaign staffers and salaries that exceed city limits — while his administration is responding to inquiries from federal authorities and the D.C. Council.
In interviews with more than a dozen sources connected to the Gray campaign, Green is described as either an accomplished high-level manager who performed exceptionally during the campaign, or a political operative who consolidated power the day after Gray’s primary victory by pushing aside campaign professionals in a grab that benefited her friends.
“It was: ‘Thanks. We’ll take it from here,’ ” said a former campaign consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly criticize Gray. “People were feeling shut out. . . . There was this small group of people all traceable to one person.”
Green, who declined to be interviewed, has denied doing anything improper.
Her attorney, Thomas C. Green, no relation, took issue with any notion that his client’s management should be blamed for the “missteps in the Gray Administration” after he took office. In an e-mail reply, he stressed that his client was a “part-time volunteer Transition Chairperson” and that Gray also had a “full time paid Transition Director.”
He said that in her volunteer role she did not vet or interview job candidates, establish salaries or “recommend the hiring of her own daughter” and that these responsibilities regarding transition staff were handled by the transition director, Reuben O. Charles II. He said she was responsible for making recommendations to the mayor-elect about the structure of the policy transition teams and their chairmen. She was also “responsible for coordinating the Inaugural activities, which were flawlessly executed,” he wrote.
Charles did not return requests for comment.
The criticism generated by Brown’s allegations has been as loud as it has been relentless, including from Gray campaign consultant Johnny Allem, who said Green must limit her involvement to soften the impact on the administration. “This is a mayor who’s got an awful good heart, high standards and high ethics,” he said. “I just quietly hope she goes into the woodwork.”
Such harsh words — publicly and privately — from Gray’s supporters and critics are not what they expected to say about Green, a 65-year-old personnel executive who until Friday was vice president at Amtrak. Somehow, they say, the gravitas and common sense she has displayed professionally — from city government to the administration of President Bill Clinton as his two-time pick for deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management to the executive ranks at Amtrak — didn’t translate when she had to lead Gray’s campaign and transition.
“I don’t think she did anything illegal. I don’t think she did anything unethical,” said a D.C. Democratic operative who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly criticize the mayor. “The most astonishing thing is her lack of political judgment and his trust in her judgment.”
Gray declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that he has known Green for more than 20 years and was impressed with her appointments to Clinton’s Cabinet, her long career and her love of the city.
“For all those reasons, I entrusted her to be chairperson of my campaigns for Chairman of the Council and Mayor,” Gray said. “Any challenges to her character are counter to the Lorraine Green that I know.”
Green’s close friends say that she did an extraordinary job managing the campaign and the transition and that she is the target of one-time Gray supporters disappointed that they did not get jobs in the administration. They said Green worked on the transition at night and on the weekends and was anxious to return to Amtrak.
“In retrospect, it was a very difficult balancing act being the vice president of human resources at Amtrak and being the campaign [chairman],” said Tom Downs, who has known Green since 1981, when they worked in District government, and who hired her to be a vice president at Amtrak when he was the chairman and chief executive of the railroad in 1997. “As soon as the [general] election was over, I am sure the pressures built quickly about getting back to work. . . . It limited the amount of time she could spend [on the transition].”
Emily Durso, who has known Green for at least 25 years, said Green deserves credit for Gray getting elected after his late campaign start in late March 2010. “She and Vince pulled off a miracle to start with no campaign, no money five months earlier,” said Durso, who was recently appointed interim assistant superintendent for postsecondary education and workforce at $120,000 a year. “I think this is chauvinism. If this was a man, people wouldn’t be whining that they didn’t get treated well enough. If she were a man, they would say he was tough as nails.”
Green and Gray are regarded as an ideal team because they share values and experiences, friends said. Gray and Green are native Washingtonians, parents of two children each and lost their spouses.
Friends say that they have different but complementary personalities: Gray, 68, is more nonconfrontational; Green is more direct.
Although Downs said he has seen Gray so mad that the “veins pop out of his neck,” the mayor “doesn’t necessarily like confrontation.”
“He uses it as a last resort,” said Downs, recently appointed by Gray to serve on the board of the directors for Metro. “Lorraine is just usually fearless about confrontation.”
After graduating from McKinley High School in 1964, Green attended Howard University, but her education there was cut short after two years. “Ms. Green’s parents died when she was 17 and she had to support her younger brother and send him to college,” Thomas Green wrote in his e-mail. “She was able to advance because she received an outstanding education from the D.C. public school system and worked harder than anyone else.”
During the 1960s, she worked as a catalogue clerk at the Library of Congress and as a budget examiner for the U.S. Postal Service, according to biographical information she submitted to a Senate committee when Clinton nominated her as OPM deputy director in 1993.
In November 1971, Green landed her first job in District government, as a budget analyst in the Department of Human Services, working her way up to a supervisory position by 1974.
She moved over to the Department of Public Works, first as a chief of financial analysis and then as deputy controller.
That’s when she met Downs, who became director of the department in 1981. Years later, when Amtrak was considering her for a job, a board member questioned whether a non-college graduate could be hired as a vice president at the railroad.
Downs said he told the member that it didn’t bother Clinton. “Lorraine is pretty much self-made in an era when African American women didn’t have a lot of doors opened for them and had to open them themselves,” he said.
Through the 1980s, Green continued in District government: chief of the Office of Personnel; deputy director and acting director of the Department of Administrative Services; and executive director of the D.C. Lottery.
When Sharon Pratt (D) became mayor in 1991, she turned to Green to be director of the Office of Personnel — a critical position because Pratt had the task of downsizing government. “She came to the position reluctantly. She really wanted to run recreation,” Pratt said.
But Pratt thought Green was best suited to a job that required finesse and a deep knowledge of city agencies. “She could do it with empathy,” Pratt said.
Green’s reputation propelled her to the Clinton administration via Vernon Jordan, who had headed Pratt’s and Clinton’s transitions. “He recognized some of the quality talent there,” Pratt said.
Green met Gray when she was Pratt’s personnel director and he led the Department of Human Services. Years later, Gray, the executive director of Covenant House, asked her to join the group’s board.
Their friendship blossomed, and Green was at his side when Gray ran for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat in 2004. Two years later, Gray relied on Green to be the chairwoman of his successful race for council chairman.
In previous interviews, Green said she tried to discourage Gray from running for mayor last year because she thought he was an effective council chairman.
Nonetheless, Gray decided to take on Fenty, and again Green headed his campaign. Her duties included being a leading authority figure and being involved in the most minute tasks, according to interviews with several campaign workers.
The day after the primary, many workers received letters signed by Green that the campaign would scale back and that they were no longer needed. People who appeared to be volunteers on the campaign, some of them friends of Green, became paid staff members, according to campaign finance records.
Thomas Green said his client had no discussions about and no influence over the money paid to people who worked on the campaign. “The salary and bonus decisions were made by the transition director without Ms. Green’s input or knowledge,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Hall was paid $30,000. Brooks was paid $44,000. Brooks’s neighbor, Leroy Ellis, received more than $60,000 in fees, records show.
When Gray assembled his administration, Hall was hired as a $200,000 chief of staff.
Hall’s son was hired in the Department of Parks and Recreation; Brooks’s son was hired in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; Ellis was hired as a $125,000 special assistant in the Department of Employment Services.
Judy Banks, whom Green recommended to head the Department of Human Resources, was paid $180,000 annually, although she is paid $127,000 in a similar job at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, from which she is on leave. Banks, who did not comment about her compensation during a council hear ing last week, has returned to the convention center.
Gray has said he was unaware that any children other than Green’s daughter had been hired. All of them, except Green’s daughter, resigned. Gray fired Hall.
Banks said at a recent council hearing that she flagged the possible nepotism to other city officials but that she was not responsible for hiring. Ellis did not return a call for comment.
Meanwhile, Green has withdrawn her nomination to chair the Washington Convention and Sports Authority board. She also is expected to testify before the D.C. Council in the coming weeks on the administration’s hiring practices and allegations from Brown, who has been dismissed from his $110,000-a-year job with the Department of Health Care Finance.
A campaign worker, who was told to direct people to a campaign Web site when they asked about jobs, said that he doesn’t believe Brown’s allegations but that the episode had its advantages.
“The good thing is that Sulaimon Brown has caused a house cleaning,” he said.