D.C. Council Votes to Reprimand Jim Graham

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Councilmember Jim Graham at the Howard Theatre. (credit: Kells Hetherington)

Councilmember Jim Graham at the Howard Theatre. (credit: Kells Hetherington)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — In an unusual step, the D.C. Council voted overwhelmingly Monday to reprimand member Jim Graham for his intervention in the city’s lottery contract process.

The council voted 11-2 in favor of the reprimand, the least serious action it can take against a member. Graham and Councilman Marion Barry, who was censured in 2010, cast the only votes against the reprimand. Graham’s colleagues also voted to strip him of his oversight of alcoholic beverage regulation, which Graham called an unfair extra punishment.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called for the vote last week amid investigations finding that Graham, one of the council’s longest serving members, tried to barter with bidders for the city’s lottery contract and had inappropriately tried to use the contracting process to advance his political agenda. The investigations have found that in 2008, Graham told a developer that he would support his bid for the lottery contract in exchange for the developer dropping out of a project around a Metro station. Graham served on the Metro board at the time.

“I do not relish this situation. I don’t believe any of us who are present relish this situation,” Mendelson said, a sentiment echoed by Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who called it a “somber moment and a sad one.”

Councilman Tommy Wells strongly rebuked his colleague, saying “this action really may not go far enough.”

“The idea that we can pick and choose the winners and losers of who gets contracts and who doesn’t” foments a pay-to-play political atmosphere, he said.

Federal authorities are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the district’s $38 million lottery contract. Graham, who has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing, did not contest the reports’ findings on Monday but focused instead on the council’s discipline process, which he said denied him due process.

“The spirit of the law says there should be witnesses, there should be cross-examination, there should be an opportunity to be heard,” he said.

He also said alcoholic beverage regulation had nothing to do with his involvement in the lottery contract.

“There is no relationship between the reprimand action and my oversight of alcohol,” he said.

It was the second time in the council’s 38-year history that the body has adopted a resolution criticizing the actions of one of its members, according to Mendelson’s office.

Graham received impassioned support from Barry, a former mayor and current councilmember who three years ago was censured — a more serious punishment — for helping steer a $15,000 contract to an ex-girlfriend. He was stripped of his committee assignments, though city ethics officials later concluded that he hadn’t broken any rules.

Recounting some of that experience, Barry warned his colleagues that their reprimand was unconstitutional because it denied Graham a chance to defend himself.

“I don’t know whether he’s guilty or not,” Barry said. “I want to hear about it. I don’t want to read about it in the newspaper.”

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(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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