In August 2013, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi radio call-in show to discuss District issues in an open forum. During that radio show, a caller inquired about the Mayor’s position on the proposal to destroy historic landmark McMillan Park and replace it with high-rise medical office buildings and a large number of residential housing units. Specifically, the caller pressed the Mayor about how he could ignore the large numbers of constituents who had expressed written opposition to the controversial development proposal. The Mayor responded to the caller that he was unaware of the thousands of people who had registered strong concerns about the project.
Following the radio show, Kirby Vining and Friends of McMillan Park formally requested a meeting with the Executive Office of the Mayor to deliver copies of the petition in opposition to the development proposal with 5,200 signatures. Chris Murphy, Mayor Gray’s Chief of Staff, responded to Mr. Vining by denying the meeting request, citing Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) support for the project.
On August 7, 2013, Shiv Newaldass, then a project manager for the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) overseeing the McMillan development proposal, received a copy of Mr. Murphy’s response to the Friends denying the requested meeting with the Mayor. Mr. Newaldass in turn thanked Mr. Murphy “… and the Mayor for taking such a firm stance in support of this project.” Newaldass then shared this correspondence with the entire Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) development team hired by DMPED to develop McMillan Park. The following day, VMP Project Director, Anne Corbett, shared the message with Tania Jackson of VMP outreach contractor, Create Communitas, and with Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Dianne Barnes (SMD 5E09) and Ronnie Edwards (SMD 5C11), both of whom served as Chair of their respective ANCs at the time. Ms. Jackson noted that this was “good stuff – firm replies we really wanted from the Mayor.” Commissioner Barnes also thanked Ms. Corbett, noting that this was great information to share.
For the DMPED project manager to thank the Mayor’s office for this kind of support begs the question of who is actually in charge of this project. Presumably the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is implementing the Mayor’s agenda, so why are the Deputy Mayor’s office and the Deputy Mayor’s contractors thanking the Mayor for taking a firm position on the project? Whose project is it anyway?
Shortly after receiving the denied meeting request, Mr. Vining insisted to Mr. Murphy that even if the Mayor refused meet with Friends of McMillan Park, the Friends would still deliver the petitions to the Mayor’s office. Resisting at first, Mr. Murphy finally relented after Mr. Vining invoked the petition clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, to which Mr. Murphy responded that his door was always open to receive petitions in that case, even though no meeting would be scheduled.
This article is based on documents obtained from the DC Government via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Don Padou, a lawyer who specializes in FOIA cases, represented Kirby Vining in the lawsuit that produced these documents.
The source material on which the above article is based is document number 001150 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location: