D.C. Council votes to reprimand Jim Graham

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Marion Barry,Phil Mendelson,Metro,D.C. Council,Jim Graham

Blowing past his history of vigorous denials and cries that the process flouted the Constitution, the D.C. Council issued a rare reprimand to Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham on Monday for seeking to tie his vote on the city's lottery contract to a developer's pledge to withdraw from a major contract.

"I do not relish this situation," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who authored the reprimand that lawmakers approved 11-2. "Today is an uncomfortable day for the Council of the District of Columbia."

The vote made Graham the second legislator in the council's 38-year history to face formal discipline from colleagues.

In a separate vote, the council allowed Graham to retain the chairmanship of the council's Committee on Human Services, but it curtailed that panel's authority.

Graham said little during the brief session and chose not to defend his conduct ahead of the reprimand vote.

But after the special legislative meeting, Graham said he was anticipating putting the controversy behind him.

"I'm relieved, actually," said Graham, who has long denied wrongdoing. "I'm relieved because it's over."

Monday's vote was a watershed moment in a sequence of events that began with a May 2008 meeting that included Graham and developer Warren Williams Jr.

According to several participants and a series of independent investigations -- though Graham has disputed their accounts and findings -- Graham offered to support Williams' bid for the lottery contract.

But the participants said Graham attached a condition to his vote: that Williams and his partners had to drop a bid to develop a property owned by Metro.

Graham was a member of both the D.C. Council and the Metro board at the time of the exchange, which he said was misinterpreted as an illicit request and not the traditional legislative "horse-trading" he intended.SClBBut the meeting was still a key subject in three investigations: one by the city's inspector general, another by Metro that found Graham had breached "his duty to put the public interest foremost" and a final review by the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.SClBA federal grand jury is also investigating the $38 million lottery contract, but Graham's lawyer has said the legislator is not a target of that probe.SClBIt was the Feb. 7 opinion from the ethics board that intensified Graham's troubles. The panel's 27-page ruling said it had "substantial evidence" that Graham had violated the city's code of conduct, in part to benefit a campaign contributor.

The board declined to investigate the matter further, though, after determining it did not have the authority to punish Graham because his conduct took place before the panel existed.

Although it was a legal victory, the opinion infuriated Graham, who complained that the panel issued the ruling without allowing him to present his case adequately.

Graham last week moved his battle to the D.C. Superior Court, filing a lawsuit in a bid to force the board to withdraw its opinion. The case is pending, but a judge refused Friday to force the panel to step back from its ruling immediately.

Mendelson said, though, that even if Judge Anthony Epstein had voided the opinion, the council would have pressed ahead with its reprimand because of other investigations' findings about Graham's conduct.SClBThe political ramifications for Graham, who is serving his fourth term and is up for re-election next year, were unclear. Three people have publicly indicated their interest in running for Graham's seat.SClBGraham, who has not said whether he will seek another term, said last week he believes he could win re-election.

And, he added, "People ... don't like an ethics violation, that's for sure, but they don't quite understand what this is all about."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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