A decision by Mayor Anthony A. Williams's administration to award a $43 million contract to a joint venture formed by Tompkins Builders Inc. and former Olympic gymnast Jair Lynch seems to be stirring up hard feelings in the minority business community.
After council member David A. Catania (R-At Large) challenged the award, calling Lynch a Williams crony, he received an e-mail from Tommy Smith, who identified himself as chairman of the 300-member AAARB/Alliance for African American Residents and Businesses.
"A number of AAARB members have complained about the Jair Lynch Companies receiving millions of dollars in D.C. Government contractors and not hiring Black D.C. Residents or D.C. Contractors," said the e-mail, which was also addressed to more than 40 journalists and city officials. "AAARB members are tired of [local, small and disadvantaged business enterprise] companies getting a small fee by big White Construction firms to front like they are doing these major projects.
"Mayor Williams should look at all of Jair Lynch's project . . . and see how many D.C. (Black) Minority Contractors, Businesses and Residents benefited. . . . AAARB would love to know how a Black person like Mr. Jair Lynch is getting past the DC Government Red Tape to win all these contracts."
The e-mail, sent Saturday, drew a quick and angry reply from Lynch, who has been hired by the city to build a new headquarters for the city's troubled 911 emergency communications system.
Lynch threatened to sue Smith for "libel and slander."
"The Jair Lynch Companies is not a front company and has never been a front company for anyone. The Jair Lynch Companies is owned 100% by me and I am an African American Washington, D.C., resident," Lynch wrote in an e-mail sent Monday to the same list of recipients.
"The information you are distributing is not only false but also makes allegations that can be considered a crime. You have never had a conversation with me about your concerns. I do not know who you are. Your reckless and intentional disregard for the truth must stop."
Smith responded by inviting Lynch to lunch. Robert Green III, president of the D.C. chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, sent a separate e-mail saying he would go, too.
As of press time Tuesday, however, there was no word from Lynch on whether he would accept the invitation.
Meanwhile, at Catania's request, council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) was planning to hold a hearing this week on Lynch's 911 construction contract.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) was the recipient last week of a public service award by the watchdog group D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project for her efforts to improve conditions at the District's jail.
In presenting the award, Douglas R. Sparks, a lawyer and board member at the legal services project, referred to a four-day period in December 2002 during which two detainees were stabbed to death and another was wounded.
"Kathy took swift action. Along with her staff and other council members, she toured the jail, consulted with experts and others knowledgeable in the field of corrections, and introduced legislation designed to remedy a number of the most urgent and dangerous conditions at the jail," Sparks told the gathering.
"A series of public hearings was held during which Kathy Patterson and her staff looked behind . . . assertions of correctional officials that jail administrators were providing sufficient security for pretrial detainees," he said.
This week, Patterson, who chairs the council's Committee on the Judiciary, said in an interview that she was "very flattered and honored, because these are important issues, and the prisoners' project is a first-rate human rights organization."
In her acceptance speech, Patterson reflected emotionally on a night last year after a hearing on the D.C. Jail. Patterson, driving in her car, was listening to radio news reports about U.S. troops mobilizing in Iraq.
She put on a CD and, as she listened to Bruce Springsteen singing "Blowin' In The Wind," vowed to fight her own war at home -- for decent and humane conditions at the D.C. Jail.
Low Profile at Gala
The contrast was stark when local education officials stepped to the microphone at the Kennedy Center on June 13 to present theater awards to area high school students.
The outgoing, incoming and interim superintendents of schools for Fairfax were there. So was the Prince William chairman of the board of supervisors. Eight of the 12 members of the Fairfax County board attended, as did the Arlington County school superintendent, the head of schools for the Catholic archdiocese and sundry other officials.
And representing the District of Columbia public schools, which won two of the fiercely competitive honors, was: Paula Sanderlin.
Who is Paula Sanderlin?
She is director of art for the Department of Visual Arts. She did a fine job presenting the award for best male dancer.
Still, Sanderlin's lonely trek to the Kennedy Center didn't look good for the District. Judy Bowns, who runs the national theater arts program with founder Bill Strauss, said she repeatedly invited the D.C. school system to send a high-level representative to the black-tie gala. But, as far as she was able to determine, Sanderlin was the lone representative from D.C. government honoring the city's "Cappies" award winners.
Cappies stands for Critics and Awards Program for high school theater. Student critics select the best performers from among 55 participating high schools. This year, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts won two awards, including best lead actress, for a performance by Keona Welch.