Jim Graham fights push for D.C. Council reprimand

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D.C. Councilman Jim Graham sought Thursday to defuse the threat of a rare reprimand by District lawmakers, locking himself into an extraordinary legal and political drama that pitted him against the city's ethics board and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

"We need to set aside this process in order to have a process," Graham said as he called for a special council committee to investigate his conduct after complaining for weeks that a series of independent reviews of his actions had been unfair. "The rest of this should be held in abeyance until all of that gets resolved."

Graham, in his fourth term as Ward 1's legislator, is under scrutiny for offering in 2008 to trade his vote on the city's $38 million lottery contract in exchange for a company dropping its bid to develop a property owned by Metro.

"At its very worst, it was some kind of horse-trading, which happens in every legislative body every hour on the hour," Graham said. "Is this now unethical?"

No censure?
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he opted to seek a reprimand -- instead of a more serious censure resolution -- against Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham to resolve the issue quickly.

But Mendelson still moved Thursday to sanction Graham.

Mendelson's proposal, scheduled for a Monday vote, would reprimand Graham for "affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of the government" and strip him of some oversight authority.

"The time has come for the council to respond," Mendelson said minutes before Graham appeared to offer his rebuttal at a meeting with reporters called by the chairman.

Mendelson's announcement came two weeks after the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability said it had "substantial evidence" of wrongdoing by Graham. It declined to pursue the matter, though, because of constitutional concerns about whether it could punish Graham.

Although he escaped ethics board penalties, the ruling infuriated Graham, who felt the panel acted inappropriately by criticizing his conduct without conducting a formal investigation.

And after long threatening legal action, Graham's lawyers asked a D.C. judge Thursday to force the board to withdraw its opinion.

The board has said it believes it acted appropriately, and a judge will hear arguments Friday on Graham's request for an injunction.

But Mendelson said Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein's ruling would not change his decision to press for Graham to become the second lawmaker in the council's 38-year history to face a reprimand.

Graham drew quick support from Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, who was the first lawmaker to face public discipline by the D.C. Council.

"I'm pushing for a hearing," Barry said. "Let's put it out in the open."

But at-large Councilman David Grosso worried Mendelson's proposed discipline did not go far enough.

"This reprimand is overdue and likely too lenient," Grosso said. "But we must move on and let this serve as notice to all members that violating the confidence of the public will not be tolerated."

Examiner Staff Writer April Burbank contributed to this report.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner