The Washington Post

Bowser campaign cancels event hosted by controversial Fenty ally

Sinclair Skinner, a fraternity brother of former mayor Adrian Fenty, was a frequent locus of controversy during his administration. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

During the course of her mayoral campaign, Muriel Bowser has approached her long association with former mayor Adrian M. Fenty with great care, playing up their shared penchant for action and efficiency, while distancing herself from Fenty’s abrasive personal style.

Bowser, however, was ready to attend an event hosted by one of Fenty’s most controversial allies — a businessman and fraternity brother implicated in a contracting scheme that a D.C. Council investigation concluded was a “classic case of waste and abuse” — before the event was cancelled Tuesday.

Sinclair Skinner was set to host a fundraiser for Bowser Saturday night at his Crestwood home, according to an invitation obtained by The Washington Post. The invitation refers to the event as a “private reception” with tickets costing $50, though attendees are invited to donate more: “Contributions limit is $2,000. Corporations, PACs, Partnerships, LLCs and LLPs may make contributions.”

Skinner has long been a controversial character in city politics, dating to his days owning a Georgia Avenue NW dry cleaners and serving on the advisory neighborhood commission in the area, when he became a thorn in the side of D.C. Council member Jim Graham and a frequent purveyor of racially charged rhetoric. But Fenty remained steadfastly loyal to Skinner, a talented field organizer, and who later figured into a major Fenty administration controversy when it was revealed he had a role in millions of dollars of parks contracts awarded outside the council’s oversight.

An investigation commissioned by the council and performed by attorney Robert P. Trout concluded Fenty did nothing wrong, but found the city got dubious benefit from contracts with Skinner’s engineering firm. Liberty Engineering & Design hired an outside firm, then repackaged the work as its own, adding markups of more than $500,000. Skinner said the charges were justified by his ability to marshal subcontractors and cut through red tape to get the parks projects done, but Trout disagreed: “I don’t think he contributed to getting these contracts done in a timely, quality matter,” he said at the time.

More recently, The Post reported that Skinner was quietly paid by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson for public relations work while Fenty was mayor. Thompson is the alleged funder of an illegal “shadow campaign” for Gray’s election in 2010, among other illicit campaign finance schemes.

Asked about the event, Bowser said Tuesday afternoon that Skinner “knows a lot of young people in the District who wanted to hear my vision, and we agreed to do that.”

Skinner, she said, had no formal role in her campaign and would not have any role in her administration. Bowser also declined to comment on the findings of the Trout report, saying she hadn’t read it in some time, though she added: “Please make sure you refer to it as the Harry Thomas/Trout report” — a reference to the D.C. Council member who commissioned the investigation but was later found to have been embezzling city money and is now amid a three-year prison term.

Several hours after Bowser addressed questions about the event, William P. Lightfoot, her campaign chairman, called to say the reception had been cancelled. The candidate, he said, “just doesn’t want to have one event become a controversy that distracts from the issues.”

Skinner declined to comment on Wednesday.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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