By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008
The District government spent about $50,000 in travel expenses and overtime pay to send police security with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on six out-of-town trips to campaign for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama over the past several months, city records show.
Fenty's travel bill was covered by the Obama campaign, mayoral aides said. But the use of public money for the security detail was challenged by at least one city leader, who said the spending was inappropriate because it was for a political trip.
"Elected officials know the rule that public dollars do not pay for partisan activities," D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said. "This is nothing new. We've been through this with past administrations. Clearly, out-of-town travel is a sensitive matter, and anything connected with partisan events is a sensitive matter."
The security detail expenditures, $17,000 in travel costs and the rest in overtime pay, were first reported yesterday by WTOP radio.
Fenty's use of public funds for travel continues a longtime practice among D.C. mayors.
In Anthony A. Williams's first five years in office, police protecting Williams (D) charged $320,000 to the District for travel that included trips to Hawaii, Las Vegas and New York. In 1997, Marion Barry's security detail racked up 68 hours in overtime pay for escorting Barry (D) and his wife from a New Jersey airport to Washington.
Tony Bullock, who served as a spokesman for Williams, said Williams's policy was that security would travel with him in the United States, on personal and business trips, but not overseas.
"Mayors of large cities and governors are targets," Bullock said. "It did not matter if it was a personal trip, business trip or political trip. People who may want to in some way provide a safety concern to the mayor do not know or care why he's in that airport or wandering down the street."
Fenty (D) endorsed Obama last summer, calling him the best candidate to push for D.C. voting rights in Congress. He has campaigned for Obama in the District, New Hampshire, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
In addition to Fenty's travel expenses, the Obama campaign paid for one mayoral aide to accompany him, mayoral spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said. At times, Fenty took more than one aide with him. The expenses of at least one aide, Veronica Washington, Fenty's "body person," who is with him most of the day, were covered by the city because she was on city business, Brooks said.
Brooks said the city's ethics officer, Thorn Pozen, who worked in Fenty's office when Fenty was a council member, ruled in advance that paying for the police and a staff member with city money was acceptable.
Early in his administration, Fenty dropped the two security officers who shadowed him in the District, saying he preferred to drive himself around the city.
Brooks said Fenty has traveled with security on other out-of-town trips, including visits to New York for education conferences.
In the District, Brooks said, Fenty "likes to drive himself because he knows the city very well. Someplace else is a different story."
Mendelson said Fenty's reasoning that he does not know his way around other cities rings hollow.
"That's not what a security detail is," he said. "Why would I employee a D.C. police officer to guide me around [a city in] New Hampshire? . . . This matter will be handled in the court of public opinion."