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D.C. Council Approves Controversial Parking Meter Contract

On Tuesday the D.C. Council approved a contract for the maintenance of the city's parking meters, but it did not happen without controversy.
On Tuesday the D.C. Council approved a contract for the maintenance of the city's parking meters, but it did not happen without controversy.

On Tuesday the D.C. Council approved a $33 million parking meter contract, setting aside a debate that had exposed what some critics say is the pervasive "pay-to-play" political culture in D.C.

The contract for the maintenance of the meters was awarded to Xerox in 2012, but protested by the losing bidder, Rockville-based WorldWide Parking. After an appeals board backed the city's decision to award the contract to Xerox, the debate became more political, with Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) coming to WorldWide Parking's defense.

In letters to city officials and at a hearing earlier this week, Orange insisted that he was only concerned about money: WorldWide Parking's bid was substantially cheaper than Xerox's, he argued, and those savings could be funneled into important social programs.

But critics pointed to something else: the $42,500 in bundled campaign contributions Orange had received from the company since 2010, $20,000 of which came within the last month and were destined for his mayoral campaign.

The Council recently banned the bundling of campaign contributions — when separate entities located at the same address and largely controlled by the same person give money — but the change does not take effect until 2015.

At a legislative session on Tuesday, Orange continued to insist that he was merely looking out for the city's best financial interests, an argument that convinced only Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who joined Orange in voting against the contract. The Council's 11 other members, though, voted for it, including Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who up until this point has abstained on votes on contracts over concerns that the practice breeds corruption.

During the session, Orange rejected claims that he could "be bought for contributions" and blamed the media for focusing solely on the campaign donations, which he called a “sexy” issue.


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