So we thought it might be useful to explain why we think this case is important, and why the public is owed answers to the questions that surround it.
To recap: There is evidence, contained both in a report by the D.C. inspector general and in e-mails we have obtained, that Mr. Graham tried to use his sway over a multimillion-dollar D.C. lottery contract to influence who would win a multimillion- dollar Metro development contract. There’s also evidence that Mr. Graham sought to steer at least part of the Metro business to a company that had lost an open competition for the deal. At the time — key events took place in the spring of 2008 — Mr. Graham was representing Ward 1 on the D.C. Council and representing the District on the regional board that oversees Metrorail and Metrobus.
What’s at stake?
The veracity of an elected official.
Mr. Graham denies any wrongdoing. Specifically, in conversations and e-mails with us, he denied that he discussed the Metro contract in a May 29, 2008, meeting with local business people who were seeking the lottery business, one of whom was also vying for the opportunity to develop Metro-owned land in the U Street corridor represented by Mr. Graham. Yet in e-mails among themselves after the meeting, members of the group openly discuss how to respond to what they perceived as Mr. Graham’s demand that they withdraw from the Metro contract.
Shortly after the meeting, one of the participants, lobbyist Jim Link, said he was looking forward to “discussing next steps” with Mr. Graham, who replied, “Thanks. Do you think they will do anything?” Mr. Link replied, “Yes. Wheels are in motion. Everyone took your concerns seriously.”
What did Mr. Graham mean when he asked whether they would “do anything?” What were his “concerns?” The council member has not explained.
The handling of public contracts.
If in the lottery contract Mr. Graham was conditioning his support on unrelated Metro business, D.C. taxpayers are entitled to wonder if their interests were slighted. In both cases the winners of open procurement processes managed by professionals ended up losing the contracts — which raises the question of whether city and regional taxpayers got the best possible deal.
It’s also fair to ask why Mr. Graham was involved at all. In a well-managed local government, elected officials such as Mr. Graham write laws and help set rules; they do not interfere in awarding contracts. But the D.C. Council has given itself the authority to approve or veto all contracts of $1 million or more. Making the situation even more toxic is the perception that campaign contributions are necessary to compete for the District’s business. How else to explain the reassurance e-mailed to Mr. Graham that the lottery seekers had not funded his rivals? The council’s involvement in contracts, as Post columnist Colbert I. King has been writing, is an invitation to mischief, a view that’s echoed in the inspector general’s report. “Rather than nullifying the results of the competitive bid process,” the council might better exercise its legislative powers through the promulgation of law and policy, Charles J. Willoughby wrote.