D.C. Mayor Says He Was Wrong to Let Friend Drive City SUV

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said that he should not have allowed a friend to drive a city-owned Lincoln Navigator and that he will no longer permit non-District employees to chauffeur him.

"I made a bad decision," Fenty said yesterday when reporters at a groundbreaking for a police facility questioned him about a Washington Post article that said he had allowed Keith Lomax, a businessman and his former substitute teacher, to drive his city-issued sport-utility vehicle. "I'm not going to do that anymore. . . . No more letting anyone else drive."

Fenty (D), who two years ago scaled back his security detail and began driving himself around town, initially asserted his authority to let Lomax drive the Navigator. Attorney General Peter Nickles said Lomax's driving was "neither wasteful nor illegal."

District statutes indicated that only D.C. employees and officials are permitted to operate city-owned vehicles. D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols said a civilian in the driver's seat flouted city law and posed legal risks for the District because of insurance issues.

The mayor said yesterday that the law is up for debate among the city's legal authorities but that he has decided to be cautious. "Nonetheless, it shouldn't have happened and won't happen again," he said. Employees will still be allowed to drive the vehicles assigned to him, including his fuel-efficient Smart Car.

In an earlier interview, Fenty said he and Lomax were on their way to a Washington Capitals game May 13 when they were spotted on New York Avenue NE. He said yesterday that he had been in the passenger's seat possibly two other times.

Lomax did not return a call for comment yesterday.

Fenty said Lomax was his substitute teacher at Mackin Catholic High School, now part of Archbishop Carroll High School. The two have remained friends, and Lomax, who was a basketball standout in high school and college, now heads RBK Landscaping and Construction.

Since Fenty took office in 2007, the company has received $11 million in contracts, mostly through the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization. City records show that RBK was paid more than $6 million to paint and repair playgrounds, roofs, plumbing, ceiling tiles and flooring at 11 schools as part of a summer stabilization program. Some of the schools were Eastern High, Randle Highlands Elementary and Jefferson Middle.

According to a contract summary, Lomax's company was among 13 businesses that won contracts in the renovation program; 31 companies submitted bids for the projects. The initial contract was for $4 million, and RBK received an additional $2 million worth of work.

His "principal residence" is in Fort Washington, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

But D.C. voting records show that he was registered to vote in the city last year and cast a ballot in the February 2008 primary. He listed a home address on Minnesota Avenue NE, the same address used for his business on city contracts and purchase orders.

When being weighed against other companies for contracts, RBK received preference points for being a "resident owned business," according to records of the Department of Small and Local Business Development.

Staff writer Henri E. Cauvin and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company