Thursday, May 14, 2009

Note to Brian Moran - It's Dangerous To Know People

My good friend Ben, at NLS, offers a spirited defense of Mame Reiley against reporter Michael Laris’s weekend article in the Washington Post.

Laris set out to examine Brian Moran’s campaign claims that he is a fighter for the middle class and working people, Moran’s business dealings that might contradict those claims, and his political alliances that might have feathered his own nest and those of his buddies, specifically Reiley’s.

I’m not as outraged as Ben is because in the end Laris presented both the claims and counter claims. The real problem with the article is just that it was much ado about nothing. Here’s a basic rundown of the facts.

The Back Story

In the mid 1990s, Moran left the prosecutor’s office to go into private practice and took on a case defending a bunch of cab drivers who had been arrested at Dulles Airport while they were on strike. Brian won the case for the cabbies and got their owner, Farouq Massoud, thrown out of Dulles.

After the trial, Massoud was so impressed with Brian’s lawyerly skills that he hired him. Moran then helped Massoud to win back the contract to run his cabs to Dulles. The case does not close there, though.

The article then goes on to explore the role that long time Moran family friend and political consultant Mame Reiley might have played in aiding Massoud to win back the contract. Reiley, in 2007, was chair of the airports authority that voted on the bids for the contract. According to Laris’ report, she delayed the original board vote, which helped to kill it. That kept Massoud’s bid alive and the next year, when the contract was re-bid, his company won it.

The Explanations

Both Reiley and Moran have denied that they ever discussed the bids or Massoud. And there is no evidence that Mame acted improperly. Indeed, she said, in the article, that there were key last minute changes to the original bids, and that’s why there was a delay. Also, according the report, when the airports authority finally voted on the bid, it went 7 to 3 in favor of Massoud, so Mame hardly was the deciding vote. She simply affirmed the majority.

Were there some hard feelings from the frontrunner who lost the bidding war? You betcha. He’s one of the people accusing Mame and Brian of cronyism. But you know what?

I have met some people who, when they lose a job, a contract bid, or any other competitive activity, come up with an excuse that it was a rigged system, nepotism, or bribery. They always lose to the boss’s dimwitted son. The blonde always sleeps her way to the top and that’s why she got the better assignment, etc. Sometimes it’s true. Lots of times it’s not. But it’s always a more tempting excuse than the truth that the winner just was better in that particular competition. This article, though, after reporting what amounts to nothing more than hints, nudges, and innuendos, leaves it to the reader to sort out the biases.

The Biases

How do I know that this article ultimately has its biases? Because near the end Laris quotes the former leader of the strike, who no longer works for the cab company:

"It boggles my mind after all the issues that came out in the wash, that the airport authority would go back and give him" a contract at Dulles, said Nasir, who has been working as a security guard since losing his job as a driver after the earlier conflict. "Money talks. It's big money. That's how it goes, I guess."
The implication here, obviously, is that Moran switched sides and sold out the cabbies. But is that really true?

First, let’s examine what happened to the cab company as a result of winning the bid to get back to Dulles.
Sitting in his office beside the cab staging lot at Dulles, Massoud paged through the computerized work and maintenance histories of his drivers. Tracking software helps cabbies get more lucrative trips back to the airport than his competitors, he said.
And here’s Brian:
Moran says he always had the cabdrivers' interests in mind in his work for Massoud, and he made sure Massoud's proposal treated them well. "We got concessions for the drivers, and he ended up getting the contract," Moran said. Indeed, labor strife appears to be at an ebb now in what can, even without a deep recession, be a grueling job.
Let me repeat Brian’s quote: “We got concessions for the drivers and he ended up getting the contract …Indeed labor strife appears to be at an ebb now ….”

You know, as somebody who has been pro-union all my life, I’d say this is the dream of labor unions, for strife to be low and their workers to be employed in prosperous companies. earning money. There’s a problem here?

The Defense

As for the innuendos about Mame’s role in helping Massoud’s company to win the contracts, here’s Ben’s take on why there is little motivation for her to do something unethical that could tarnish her reputation (emphasis is Ben's):
Mame was appointed to the Airports Board that oversees Reagan and Dulles by then Governor Mark Warner. From disclosure reports, Mame is often paid at least $10,000 a month (more than that with Moran) when she works on campaigns- and probably even more than that with her corporate clients that she doesn't have to disclose. According to disclosure reports Brian Moran had to file as a Delegate, he was being paid between $1,000 and $4,000 a month to help them prepare this bid. That money is chickenshit to Mame- and it wasn't even going to her, directly or indirectly.

So essentially the Post is suggesting Mame may have helped throw a contract to this firm because they paid a close friend (Brian) 1/3 of the money she usually makes consulting for a single client. What?! That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. That money is nothing- there are canvassers making more money this year than Brian made representing them- yet the Post is essentially speculating that he called in a special deal for them? That's ridiculous.

But what really makes me angry is them dragging Mame into this for no reason. All she did was vote for the staff recommendation- which was to select this company as one of the three for the the contract. If people like Mame recused themselves every time they had worked with an attorney helping one of the applicants they would NEVER vote on any public board. It's maddening that the Post thinks this is something even worth discussing.
It’s the last sentence that sums this up. Through the techniques employed by gossip columnists and scandal rags like the Enquirer, the Washington Post managed to create the buzz of a political scandal where none really exists. To be honest, I would love a system where cronyism never existed and where there never was a conflict of interest or even the appearance of one in public office. But the way our system is currently set up, people who make decisions know, socialize, and do business with each other. Reform the system but don’t scapegoat those within it. Just because two people are friends and have done business with each other doesn’t mean that either of them is corrupt.

There is no evidence of wrong doing here, only evidence of people knowing each other.


Catzmaw said...

Great analysis, Karen. This whole concocted "controversy" is really frosting me. The story is barely more than a hit piece, containing just enough balance to escape that label, but carelessly put together with a lot of innuendo and no substance.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Exactly! And as you know, I've objected when it's been done to Terry McAuliffe too. I just don't like stories that depend on false connections and then leap to conclusion. Here's how it works:

X knows Y and did some work for Y. Z also did something favorable for Y. Z and X know each other. So, they both collaborated to help Y, and because X and Z are public officials, maybe they benefitted in an unethical manner.

Well, maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. Maybe nothing is wrong. It's an inference that comes from jumping to conclusions that might not be warranted that makes it sloppy logic. I've seen it throughout the blogosphere. But when you see it from supposed professional journalists, it gets discouraging. I think it's one reason, though certainly not the only one, that they are losing readers.

The public is coming to distrust the press.