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Who Will Fenty Support in Ward 7?

By Yolanda Woodlee And Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 8, 2007

There's no question that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) wants Muriel Bowser to win his old Ward 4 seat on the D.C. Council. Not only has he endorsed her, but he has attended fundraisers and his political machine is now her campaign team.

The question is: Who is the mayor going to support of the 20 candidates vying to replace Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in Ward 7? Will he take the lead from Gray and support activist Yvette M. Alexander? Or will he add his muscle to the campaign of Victor Vandell, who for months has passed out literature featuring pictures of himself and Fenty during the mayor's campaign.

In an interview earlier this week, Fenty said: "We've been hands-off in Ward 7. Before we do anything, we will talk with Vincent. There's plenty of time."

But the mayor added that some of the same people who volunteered for him are now working in Ward 7 with Vandell.

Those Fenty supporters have apparently created some tension in the Vandell campaign.

On Tuesday, Jerome Brocks, Vandell's campaign chairman who established his exploratory committee last year, resigned abruptly. He said in the past two weeks the campaign took on "a direction very different from what had been envisioned" five months ago. He said he walked into the office and Sinclair Skinner and Lamont Harrell, both top aides in Fenty's campaign, were in charge.

Brocks, who said he was disappointed, said he did not know if Fenty sent them, but Vandell accepted them with open arms.

Political Signs

Before Brocks left, he had one piece of business: calling to ask candidate Sam Jordan to move a sign at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road -- prime real estate because potential voters can see the sign on their way downtown, heading to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens or jumping on the Anacostia Freeway.

Vandell's sign at 6 feet by 8 feet has been a prominent fixture on the corner for the past three months. Now, he has competition since Jordan put up a 4-by-8-foot sign that Vandell says is blocking his.

"It eclipses our sign on one side," Vandell said. "It went up a couple of days ago."

Brocks made two calls to Jordan. "He did ask him in a politically correct way to move his sign to the side so that he was not blocking our sign," Vandell said.

Donors and Zoning

In the Ward 4 race, it's candidate Graylan Scott Hagler vs. Muriel Bowser.

In letters sent to the elections board, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance and the D.C. Attorney General's office, Hagler questioned whether Bowser had a conflict of interest when she voted in favor of a zoning variance for a condominium project that came before her and fellow 4B advisory neighborhood commissioners on Feb. 22.

The developer of the project at South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road NE, Ellis Denning Construction and Development, gave $500 to Bowser's campaign and made at least seven other contributions through limited liability corporations related to the company.

Council Confirms Soto

Speaking of conflicts of interest, the D.C. Council unanimously approved Ben Soto, a longtime friend of Mayor Fenty, to be on the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission at a meeting Tuesday.

But Soto had to jump through hoops to convince the council that he could find a way to get rid of his ties to the Washington Nationals baseball team.

Fenty's nomination of Soto had already been given a red flag by council members concerned that Soto invested money in a limited liability company to help B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., the chief executive of Industrial Bank N.A., become one of the minority owners in the Nationals several months ago.

Soto had offered to recuse himself from any votes dealing with the team. That didn't satisfy some council members worried that he would be ineffective because the new publicly funded $611 million baseball stadium for the Nationals is a priority for the commission.

"What's he going to do? Look at the schedule for the circus that comes to town once a year?" said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).

By Tuesday, he had offered to put his investment in a blind trust, standard for folks in the private sector who go into federal government posts, or to divest his interest.

Suddenly, several council members were scratching their heads about why they were asking Soto to give up his possibly lucrative interest for a volunteer job.

In the end, the council gave Soto a unanimous voice vote that left what he should do up in the air.

"My intent is to divest, but I wouldn't mind placing it in a blind trust," Soto said in an interview.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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