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McDonnell accused of 'power grab' against Dulles board

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is again playing hardball with regional transportation officials, and one key Northern Virginia Democrat is questioning the Republican administration's commitment to the $6 billion Dulles Rail line.

Even though the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority gave in to McDonnell's demands and killed off a union-friendly labor agreement, McDonnell last week ordered the ouster of an authority board member with union ties, replacing him with a new member that the authority had previously refused to seat.

And neither the showdown over the labor agreement nor the forced ouster marked the first time McDonnell has bucked a regional board he saw as out of step with Virginia's interests. Last year, McDonnell withheld $20 million from Northern Virginia transportation agencies until Metro gave him a seat he wanted on its Board of Directors.

"There's a pattern here of real, raw political power grab that comes close to an abuse of power," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said. "I want to take the governor at his word that he supports the Silver Line project, but I'm as puzzled as anybody by his actions that would seem to throw roadblock after roadblock in our trying to bring our agreement to closure."

In the latest blowup, McDonnell last week ordered the removal of Dennis Martire, a vice president of Laborers' International Union of North America, from the airports board, citing a federal investigation that questioned Martire's travel expenses.

McDonnell replaced Martire with McLean businesswoman Caren Merrick, who the governor first tried to appoint to the authority in November as one of the two new authority members Virginia was granted under new rules approved by Congress. But the authority blocked Merrick from taking her seat at that time.

"This decision was made in regard to Mr. Martire and his actions as a board member," McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said. "As a Virginia appointee, the governor felt compelled to act to ensure the integrity and public trust in MWAA and its decision making."

The authority denounced Martire's removal as "unprecedented." Martire sued to block his removal.

One authority member, who would only speak anonymously because of the ongoing legal battle, said McDonnell appeared bent on creating problems for the authority.

"There's no end to this," the board member said. "It's time for us to get on with operating an airport."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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