WASHINGTON — A minor candidate in last year’s District of Columbia mayoral race has told federal authorities that Mayor Vincent Gray handed him a list of talking points to use against the then-incumbent Adrian Fenty, according to a person with knowledge of the document.
The exchange of talking points would show that Sulaimon Brown and Gray worked closely together during last year’s Democratic primary, though authorities would have to verify that Gray authored the document or handed it off. The document would also bolster Brown’s claim that the Gray campaign essentially employed him to spout anti-Fenty rhetoric so that Gray could focus on his positive vision for the city.
Though the document by itself wouldn’t constitute a crime, its existence would paint an unflattering portrait of back-room deal-making in the nation’s capital.
Federal authorities are investigating Brown’s allegations that members of Gray’s campaign staff paid him thousands of dollars to stay in the race and promised him a job in the Gray administration if he won.
Gray has denied wrongdoing and has said he knows nothing about cash and money orders given to Brown. His lawyer, Robert Bennett, called Brown’s talking points allegation “absolute nonsense” and fictional. Gray’s spokeswoman, Linda Wharton Boyd, had no immediate comment.
“He never gave him anything,” Bennett said.
Gray won last September’s Democratic primary in surprisingly lopsided fashion, given Fenty’s reputation outside the district as a hard-charging reformer who had improved local public schools with the help of his hand-picked schools chancellor. Then chairman of the D.C. Council, Gray portrayed himself as more ethical and collaborative than Fenty, who fell out of favor locally for his perceived aloof demeanor and for steering government contracts to his fraternity brothers.
Brown, a political novice, frequently disparaged Fenty during the campaign with personal attacks. He has told representatives of the U.S. attorney’s office that Gray handed him a list of talking points to bolster his rhetoric, and the document is among hundreds he has provided to prosecutors in hopes of substantiating his allegations against Gray’s campaign, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because a grand jury is weighing Brown’s allegations.
Ronald Machen, the U.S Attorney for the district, declined through a spokesman to comment on the investigation. The government does not publicly discuss grand jury investigations.
The grand jury is also looking into campaign finance irregularities in Gray’s campaign, according to people familiar with the probe, although it’s not clear what charges, if any, could be brought. Those people have also asked not to be named because of the secret nature of grand jury investigations.
Gray has said that he has not appeared before the grand jury or been questioned by prosecutors.
Gray tapped into widespread dissatisfaction with Fenty – especially in the city’s poorer, majority-black wards – to oust the first-term mayor by more than 13,000 votes, or 10 percentage points. Brown received 209 votes in the primary out of nearly 134,000. He used the catchphrase, “Go Brown, go Gray, go any color but Fenty.”
Fenty did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Brown handed over the document this summer in a meeting with members of the U.S. Attorney’s office, according to the person who spoke to the AP. Brown declined to comment on the document. It was not immediately clear who authored the talking points, or precisely what anti-Fenty message they conveyed.
After Gray took office in January, Brown was hired for a $110,000-a-year job in the district’s Department of Health Care Finance despite questions about his background, which includes an attempted murder charge as a teenager – he was acquitted – a poor credit history and a spotty resume. He was fired less than a month later, with administration officials citing inappropriate office behavior.
Brown then went public with his allegations that he was paid by members of Gray’s campaign chairwoman, Lorraine Green, and her friend, Howard Brooks, who handled financial matters for the campaign. Brown said Gray was aware of the payments, but he has not accused the mayor of handing him cash.
The D.C. Council conducted a lengthy fact-finding probe of Brown’s allegations and concluded that Brown was paid at least $1,160 by Brooks and was promised a job in the administration.
Brown told the Council that on one occasion, Gray told him, “Howard has something for you,” and that Brooks then handed him an envelope with cash inside. Gray has denied that allegation, and the Council found that Brown’s claims that Gray was aware of the payments were “not credible.”
Bennett, Gray’s attorney, said Brown’s allegation about the talking points must be relatively new since Brown did not make the accusation in the initial flurry of interviews he gave shortly after his firing or at his appearance before the Council.