More than a few people have called me in recent days to ask me what I intended to do about what they called “shadow campaign part 2.” They are concerned about D.C. Citizens Against Catania, which may have plastered posters in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. No such committee has registered, as required by law, with the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, however.
The office is “conducting an internal inquiry into the matter,” said spokesman Wesley W. Williams. Marie Drissel, a supporter of independent mayoral candidate David Catania, filed a formal complaint on Tuesday, asserting, among other things, that D.C. Citizens Against Catania is operating in tandem with Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser’s campaign.
The Post reported that the group behind the anti-Catania offensive mostly includes former prisoners. They apparently organized behind Bowser after a telephone conversation in late August between Debra Rowe of Returning Citizens United, several ex-offenders and Bowser. Her campaign spokesman noted that she “has brought many groups together to discuss their issues. This is nothing different.”
Except Rowe has been linked to the misuse of government funds. She had been chief of housing for the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, a division of the Department of Health,when she made questionable grants to several nonprofit organizations. One, Miracle Hands, founded by Cornell Jones, a former drug kingpin, eventually received $4.5 million. While Rowe was making grants to that organization, three of her relatives, including her son, were on Jones’s payroll.
Rowe did not return several telephone calls for comment.
In 2011, the Washington Times revealed that a portion of the government grants administered by Rowe went to build a strip club co-owned by Jones. Catania, as the at-large D.C. Council member with oversight of health, asked D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan to investigate the matter. Later that year, Nathan filed a lawsuit against Jones. This summer, a jury found Jones guilty of filing false documents. He was ordered to pay $1.08 million, including $90,000 in civil fines.
Paul S. Blumenthal, who initially was Jones’s lawyer, told me that Jones, now representing himself, has filed an appeal. Jones did not return several telephone calls requesting a comment.
Inexplicably, no legal action was taken against Rowe. Ted Gest, a spokesman for the attorney general, declined to discuss her or the reason charges were not filed.
After Rowe left city government, she and Jones founded Returning Citizens United. In 2013, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) nominated her for the Commission on Re-Entry and Returning Citizen Affairs. Responding to council concerns, he pulled her nomination.
Are residents actually witnessing yet another “shadow campaign?” The Office of Campaign Finance will make that determination. I continue to be concerned about the crew of unsavory characters swirling around Bowser. I have presented my concerns to her. She told me that she was inclined “to make room at the table for everyone and all voices.”
But haven’t some people earned outsider status? Consider her fundraiser David Wilmot. He owned and operated a group home for developmentally disabled people, Individual Development, which received government funds. While he and members of his board were drawing annual salaries of more than a quarter-million dollars, some group home residents allegedly received poor treatment. At one point, the organization was cited by the District for more than 10 violations. Wilmot sold the business.
Sinclair Skinner, an ally of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty, snowed the District as a subcontractor on a recreation construction project. He submitted “grossly inflated invoices,” for labor and material costs, according to an independent investigator, who urged the council to refer him to the U.S. attorney. Skinner claimed that his invoices were reasonable. The U.S. attorney took no action.
This March, Bowser was scheduled to attend a fundraiser hosted by him. The Post started asking questions about the event. It was soon canceled.
This summer, residents learned about problems surrounding Park Southern Apartments, where residents were living in deplorable conditions while managers failed to make repairs and may have misappropriated more than $100,000 collected from tenants.
Bowser had tried to broker a closed-door meeting with District officials and her supporters Rowena Joyce Scott, president of the board that controls Park Southern Apartments, and Phinis Jones, a former Park Southern property manager. Both have asserted they have done nothing wrong. Department of Housing and Community Development Director Michael Kelly declined to attend the private meeting, requesting a public hearing; Bowser never scheduled it. Instead, she asked the city’s inspector general to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, Bowser was asked repeatedly in debates whether she would return $20,000 in campaign contributions from Phinis Jones and his companies; Catania was the first to make that request. She has declined, arguing that she has taken appropriate action with the call for an investigation. Last week, Jones was outside the facility where one mayoral debate was held, wearing a Bowser T-shirt and checking in attendees.
Bowser seems to be swimming with sharks. Is that by chance or by choice?