Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: D.C. Council should reprimand Jim Graham

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Armed with independent findings that D.C. Council member Jim Graham violated the council's own rules of ethical conduct, his colleagues have little choice but to publicly reprimand him Monday for his inappropriate attempts to interfere with the city's $120 million lottery contract on behalf of a campaign contributor.

Graham's loud protestations of innocence notwithstanding, two independent probes -- one by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors and the other by the District's own Board of Ethics and Government Accountability -- uncovered enough evidence of wrongdoing by the four-term Ward 1 councilman to warrant a public rebuke.

A third probe by the city's Office of Inspector General failed to uncover sufficient evidence that Graham acted improperly, but that still leaves the council with two out of three reasons to make a statement that such improper behavior -- which Graham self-servingly called "horse trading" instead of the more accurate "influence peddling" -- will not be tolerated.

In fact, the only reason Graham is not facing charges is that both investigations acknowledged their lack of authority to punish him. The reasons? First, Graham is no longer on the Metro Board; and second, his transgressions occurred before the ethics board was established last year.

The council has no such excuse. Nor do Graham's colleagues have the luxury of ignoring what former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti referred to as "substantial evidence" that he improperly inserted himself into a Metro land deal involving lottery bidders.

Council rules require that the legislative body conduct its own investigation before voting to formally censure a sitting member. Given the fact that two major investigations have already been conducted -- an $800,000 probe by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, the outside law firm hired by Metro, and the ethics board probe led by Spagnoletti -- a third investigation is unnecessary, especially since Graham has also been accused in a federal lawsuit of pressuring Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi into firing his former contracts director, Eric Payne, for refusing to illegally reopen the lottery bidding process at Graham's request.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson's initial timidity in addressing this ongoing ethics scandal has already gone some way toward undermining his new position. When Mendelson finally noted at a press conference last week that Graham's "conduct adversely harmed the public's confidence in the District government," he was merely stating the obvious.

The question now is what Mendelson -- and the rest of the council -- are going to do about it.

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