By Marc Fisher
Sunday, May 10, 2009
J erry Schaeffer wasn't born yesterday. Play around in a tough business like the D.C. taxi industry for half a century and you get to see just how power really works. Sometimes, when you're trying to land a contract, merit isn't enough. There's a reason God invented lawyers, Schaeffer knows.
But when Schaeffer lost the contract to provide taxi service at Dulles International Airport in 2007, he says he was the victim of a power play that trumped any measure of merit. Schaeffer says he lost that deal as a result of a political alliance that Virginia voters should consider before choosing a horse in June's Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Farouq Massoud, whose taxi companies have held the Dulles contract on and off for many years, was an unlikely candidate to win back the business he had lost in 2005. Unlikely, Schaeffer contends, until Massoud hired as his attorney Brian Moran, the state delegate from Alexandria who is now running for governor.
As Washington Post reporter Michael Laris chronicles today, Moran played a vital role in helping immigrant taxi drivers who were arrested during a strike at Dulles a decade ago. Moran stood up for the drivers and helped them push Massoud out of the airport contract.
So it was only natural that when Massoud saw an opportunity to get back into the lucrative Dulles deal, he turned to the very man who had so effectively fought against him -- Moran.
With Moran on his side, Massoud was so confident he'd win back the contract that he boasted that he had a lock on the deal, Jeffrey Schaeffer says.
Moran did represent Massoud in the businessman's latest successful bid to win the Dulles contract. But the candidate says he did not lobby members of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "I just consulted with Massoud," Moran tells me. "I met with the drivers and got some concessions from Massoud -- a new waiting area for the drivers, for example -- so that the drivers would support his bid."
The Schaeffers argue that Moran's longtime friend and adviser, former airports authority chairman Mary "Mame" Reiley -- who has been a senior aide to Democrats Rep. Jim Moran (Brian's older brother), Sen. Mark Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine -- should have recused herself from the vote on the Dulles taxi contract because of her close ties to Moran. Moran disagrees: "Mame's been a friend for a long time, but she wasn't on my staff until spring of '08," and the vote on the Dulles contract took place in 2007.
Reiley told The Post that Moran never tried to win her support of the Massoud bid. An internal investigation by the airports authority concluded that Reiley "did not attempt to and had no intention to influence the staff evaluation panel" that recommended Massoud's selection.
Jerry Schaeffer says his company lost the bid despite offering to pay a higher fee to the airports authority than his competitors and offering the highest minority participation. "Massoud beat the authority out of $1.2 million," Schaeffer says, a reference to the 2003 finding by a Fairfax County court that Massoud failed to make good on his debt to the airports authority. "So how did he get back in?"
The Schaeffers are one of the main players in Washington's family-dominated taxi business, a tightly held industry of people who stay out of the public eye and do the kind of work most people think doesn't exist in this city. It's a father-and-sons operation, an amalgam of taxi companies that Jerry Schaeffer's father cobbled together starting more than half a century ago. Today, the family operates 14 cab companies with 600 taxis operating under names such as District, Liberty, Checker, American, Washington and Consolidated Cab. Over the decades, they've expanded horizontally: They own tow trucks and gas stations and even sell the insurance their drivers need.
"It's all about relationships," says former D.C. Council member John Ray, now a lobbyist who has worked with the Schaeffers in their effort to win back a piece of the Dulles contract. "If this had anything to do with the merits of the case, there'd be no question but Jerry would still be at Dulles."
"You don't mind losing in a fair race," Jerry Schaeffer says. "But to lose because I didn't hire Brian Moran or that caliber of lobbyist, because I thought merit would stand for itself -- that's what hurts."