Run-Down Apartment Building Remains Issue in Race for D.C. Mayor

A run-down apartment building in southeast Washington reemerged as an issue in the district’s mayoral race.

This time it involves new questions about campaign contributions and efforts to save the complex from more deterioration.

“The building has fallen into serious disrepair,” Senior Counsel to the Attorney General Ariel Levinson-Waldman said Wednesday.

The D.C. Attorney General’s Office said it went to court this week to seek a new buyer for the low-income Park Southern complex on Southern Avenue SE. More than 700 tenants live in rat- and roach-infested apartments with major structural problems and front office mismanagement.

The city lawyer spoke at Mayor Vincent Gray’s biweekly news conference. Gray also repeated his suggestion that the D.C. Council hold a hearing on the mismanagement.

That’s where the city politics come in.

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser is chairman of the housing committee and the Democratic nominee for mayor. The building’s managers, who were displaced this past spring, are big Bowser supporters. One management official, Phinis Jones, has given Bowser about $20,000 in campaign contributions from a group of management companies he owns.

After a series of articles in The Washington Post about the complex and her political support from the discredited management, Bowser asked for an inspector general investigation which is just now getting underway.

But Bowser declined to hold a hearing or to return the $20,000 in contributions. Bowser this week reported raising more than $1 million so far for the Nov. 4 election.

This week the editorial pages of the weekly Current Newspapers urged Bowser to refund the $20,000, writing that the contribution in the apartment controversy “doesn’t smell great.”

And Wednesday, independent mayoral candidate David Catania renewed his call for Bower to hold a hearing despite its impact on her political supporters. And Catania called again for Bowser to return the $20,000.

“It’s time for Ms. Bowser to hold a hearing, come clean, return the money,” Catania said as he stood across from the Bowser billboard on Martin Luther King Ave. SE. Catania said Bowser has done little to assure that the tenants get better services and support.

Bowser’s campaign, which has more than doubled Catania’s contributions, suggested Catania’s campaign is “in panic mode.”

"After his dismal fundraising efforts,” Bowser campaign spokesperson Joaquin McPeek said, “Mr. Catania's latest stunt reeks of desperation and is a sign of a campaign in panic mode.”

McPeek said that, "Unlike Mr. Catania, Council member Bowser has completely removed mayoral politics from the Park Southern issue and instead taken the appropriate measures to refer this to the independent Inspector General.”

McPeek said Bowser supports the attorney general’s efforts to find a more suitable buyer to “ensure no displacement of tenants” and to preserve the building’s affordability.

News4 attempted to talk with Phinis Jones at his Capitol Services Management offices, but no one who could be seen inside came to the door. One person who left the offices shielded his face from our cameras and sped off on Martin Luther King Avenue after making an abrupt U-turn.

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