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Jim Graham: ‘I am not resigning’

Updated 4:50 p.m. with Tommy Wells letter

A day after the District government ethics board scolded him for a 2008 contracting incident, D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said he would not step down.

A Washington Post editorial published Friday called on Graham to resign, saying he “violated basic standards of how public officials are supposed to behave in the public’s interest.”

“I am not resigning,” Graham said in a brief statement issued by his council office. “There has been no allegations or suggestion that a crime has been committed, or that there is an illegal financial request or laws that have been broken.”

The board, while excoriating Graham, dropped its proceedings against him because it said it could not constitutionally levy penalties now for acts that, at the time they were committed, could not be penalized.

Graham again “categorically” rejected the board’s suggestion that he acted, at least in part, to benefit campaign donors by suggesting that District businessman Warren Williams Jr. withdraw from a development agreement with Metro. Graham sought to have another firm, owned by the donors in question, replace Williams.

Oddly enough, lawyers for both Graham and Williams are unhappy with the board’s decisions. Graham attorney William W. Taylor III said Thursday that the report was an “unjustified blot” on his client’s reputation, based on a Metro investigation that he could not adequately respond to. Meanwhile, Williams attorney A. Scott Bolden said the board should have done more to corroborate the findings of the Metro probe.

“Their finding and their report could be a tutorial or a mandate on conduct on the part of elected officials that they are going to be investigating, and there is value in that,” Bolden said. “But don’t they have a public duty to do more? You’ve got appointed officials, you have staff, you have investigators. … In their first decision, they’re doing anything but holding elected officials accountable.”

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was asked about the matter during a Friday afternoon appearance on WAMU-FM but demurred: “This is an issue for the council to deal with,” he said.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) has not responded to a request for comment on the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability ruling.  In light of the board’s criticism, the council could reprimand Graham by resolution or take the more serious step of censuring him.

While it might be difficult for the council to take action absent a formal finding from the ethics board, Graham must also worry about a reelection fight in next year’s Democratic primary, only 15 months away.

His only declared opponent, public relations consultant Brianne Nadeau, issued a statement Thursday criticizing Graham in light of the report: “D.C. residents are sick and tired of politicians like Jim Graham who are better at producing scandals than producing results. Residents want leadership and a long-term vision for our District, not shadowy insider deals made behind closed doors.”

Update, 4:50 p.m.: Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) sent a letter to Mendelson Friday calling on the chairman to appoint an “ad hoc committee” to consider evidence that Graham violated the District’s code of employee conduct and “make recommendations for further action.”

“The crisis of ethics that has faced the Council requires your strong leadership to ensure we restore the public trust and confidence,” wrote Wells, who recently launched a mayoral exploratory campaign.

Mendelson is out of town, an aide said Friday. He has not responded to several requests for comment.