If you were holding a citywide party to celebrate a fresh new beginning in the District after the November elections, where would you hold it?
Maybe you’d go to the Walter Washington Convention Center with its hometown pride and spacious rooms.
Maybe you’d book the historic Carnegie Library next door, with its long connection to local education.
Maybe you’d find a big fellowship hall from one of our local religious institutions, which play a big part in city life.
Or, if you’re with the Vince Gray campaign, you’d rent out a sprawling nightclub in an industrial corner of northeast Washington, a nightclub with the alluring name Love but a checkered past.
As we wrote this column on Monday night, NBC4 had just reported the surprising selection of Love as party central for Gray.
Apart from the image of holding his event at a nightclub -- can’t wait to see dozens of ministers, community leaders and other solid citizens filing in past the multiple bars -- there’s another problem.
Love owners Marc Barnes and his wife, Anne, are bankrupt. They’ve filed legal papers. And they owe the District government hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.
D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue records obtained by NBC4 showed that the Barnes owe $630,381.50 in unpaid sales and use taxes. In addition, they personally owe individual taxes of $233,662.15. We’ll save you the math. That’s a total of $864,043.65. And that’s only District taxes.
So why did Gray’s campaign decide on Love?
“I don’t really know a lot about Marc Barnes’ financial challenges,” Gray told NBC4 on Monday. “But he’s always been somebody you can work with. We went out and got bids for this event, and he came in with the most economical one, which is important to us.”
One Gray insider wondered aloud to NBC4 whether Love would pay taxes on whatever money the Gray campaign pays to use the club.
Marc Barnes declined to comment to NBC4 on Monday. He told us that the media distorts things to make a story. He offered at one point to get a recording device so he could record any interview he gave. We agreed to that, but Barnes still declined to comment except to say many businesses and famous people have been through bankruptcies.
And we’ll take a moment to say that’s true. Many people file for bankruptcy. But the Gray insiders wondered what kind of image the mayor-elect is creating by going to a bankrupt nightclub owner.
Gray has spent the weeks since the September primary in laudable fashion. He’s met with business leaders, education leaders, community groups, young people and all sorts of others to explain his “one city” vision for the District. “Many of you don’t know me,” he often says to those who voted for Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Gray has even held town-hall meetings, one each in the city’s eight wards. At none of them, as far as we know, did the Gray folks say they wanted the city “to come together” at a nightclub on election night.
• And Kwame, too.
Gray did a good thing by inviting Kwame Brown, the next council chairman, to combine election night parties. It clearly was a good way to show that Mayor Gray and Chairman Brown will work together, something that didn’t happen with Chairman Gray and Mayor Fenty.
But it was unclear at deadline who recommended Love as a venue and how it was selected.
Just before the NBC4 report on Monday, we sent the Gray campaign the official city documents showing the huge debt Love’s owners owe city taxpayers. Here is the full text of the statement we were e-mailed by the Gray campaign:
"The Gray Campaign was unaware of the back taxes owed by Mr. and Mrs. Barnes. We trust they will meet their obligation to the city. Meanwhile, we look forward to a great event tomorrow evening.”
We hope everyone did enjoy it. You paid for it.
• More Gray money matters.
Mayor-elect Vince Gray has warned that the city government is facing huge fiscal problems in the coming months and years. He even said that he wouldn’t spend city tax dollars on his transition, instead raising private funds to do so. He’s created a nonprofit committee.
The only worry is that there’s no law requiring Gray to disclose his donors or how he spends the money for the transition or inaugural party Jan. 2. Fortunately, Gray has promised he will disclose all funds.
“We’re going to report on it right after the inauguration,” he told us. “We will report every dollar that was raised and who gave us the dollars so the public will know every dollar we got and where it came from.”
Asked about interest groups that want to win favor from him by contributing, Gray also was clear. “No, I’m not worried about it at all, Tom,” he said. “I’ve made it very clear to people that they are helping to support the city and that is it. They’re helping to support the transition. They’re helping to support an inauguration, and there are no commitments from me or my administration beyond that.”
Score one for accountability and transparency. Now, about that election-night party?