D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday named 17 people to a panel that will recommend changes to the District's controversial certified business enterprise program, but his picks -- which included major contractors, developers and lobbyists -- drew immediate criticism.
"We need to pass CBE reform legislation that is workable, effective and broadly accepted," Gray said. "I have faith that this group of highly accomplished leaders representing a cross section of the District's business community will provide my administration with immense help in ensuring that we achieve that goal."
But the 17 "prominent business leaders" Gray selected -- many of whom work for companies with close ties to the CBE program -- came under immediate suspicion for potential conflicts of interest.
|The 17 members of Mayor Vincent Gray's advisory panel represent an array of companies and organizations in the city:|
|Bundy Development Corp.|
|DC Chamber of Commerce|
|First Potomac Realty Trust|
|Holland & Knight|
|Jair Lynch Development Partners|
|Leftwich & Ludaway|
|L.S. Caldwell & Associates|
|McKissack & McKissack|
|Neighborhood Development Co.|
|Prince Construction Co.|
|The Robert Bobb Group|
"All of these people have been working for companies
or associated with entities that have benefited from the existing CBE program. They're not reformers," said Dorothy Brizill, a longtime government watchdog. "Their sole purpose will be to protect their own vested interests, which are not the same interests of the average D.C. resident and taxpayer."
Gray, who named the panel weeks after the D.C. Council sustained his veto of a legislative package that would have overhauled the notorious program, defended his selections.
"I have a very positive view of the people who have agreed to participate," Gray said. "They all are hugely qualified people."
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, who is exploring a 2014 run for mayor, hesitated to criticize Gray.
"I'm certain the mayor has reasons for believing that these are the most qualified, right people to serve," Wells said.
The CBE program has long been a hotbed of fraud and abuse, which ultimately prompted city leaders to pledge a revamping.
But after Gray and legislators couldn't reach a deal, the mayor vetoed the proposal that the D.C. Council approved unanimously.
Gray, however, later chalked up a significant political victory when he persuaded six lawmakers to change their minds and back his decision to veto that measure.
Gray, who has pressed for changes to the program for months, said Wednesday that he was disappointed he had not been able to reach a deal with lawmakers to make improvements.
"Am I satisfied with the pace? No," Gray said. "We had expected to be in a different place at this point."