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A D.C. Council member for 18 years and currently a partner in Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ government and regulatory practice, John Ray is a recognized face in Washington’s political circles. The former clerk for former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas spoke to Legal Times ‘ Joe Crea about lobbying the new D.C. Council, his friend Vincent Orange, and Washington gentrification.
LT: At Manatt, Phelps, you have (and have had) a number of corporate clients on whose behalf you lobbied the U.S. Congress. Yet you also do a fair amount of work lobbying the D.C. Council? RAY: Well, I lobby both the D.C. government as well as the federal government. I probably spend 40 percent of my time lobbying, and 60 percent is spent on other stuff. General corporate stuff. But I do lender-use and zoning work as well.
LT: What’s your take on the incoming Council? RAY: I think the new Council is a very different council from when I was there. When I was on the City Council, most of the members were former civil rights leaders. [Former Ward 4 Council member] Charlene Jarvis and myself were the only exceptions. I don’t think there’s anyone on there, other than [Ward 8 Council member] Marion Barry, who has any civil rights credentials.
LT: Does that affect your work lobbying the Council? RAY: No, it does not. I was on the City Council for 18 years. I know all of the members that are there now. I’ve either served with them or they worked at the City Council when I was there. The new Ward 3 member [Mary Cheh] and Ward 6 member [Tommy Wells] were not there in any capacity when I was there. I’ve known Tommy Wells for some time, since he was an ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Council] commissioner. Mary Cheh, I do not know well. I just recently met her when she was running.
LT: What, if any, impact does incoming Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty have on your lobby work? RAY: Very little. My relationship with the City Council remains the same. I have a good relationship with Mayor-elect Fenty. At the end of the day, folks use the term �lobbying the City Council.’ The word is what it is. I approach my work from the basis that what I’m doing is good policy and will ultimately benefit the District of Columbia. Council members, mayors have to decide whether this is good for the city. And my own experience on the City Council . . . a lot of folks come to talk to you about issues. Some of them are paid lobbyists, some are not paid lobbyists. But they have a point of view about policy and other considerations and they can be very helpful.
Name: John L. RayAge: 63Family: Married to Sarah; has 3 childrenHometown: Toms Creek, Ga.Education: J.D., with honors, George Washington University Law School, 1973. B.A., George Washington University, 1970.Professional Experience: Currently partner, government and regulatory division, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.At-large D.C. Council member for 18 years, serving as acting chair, chair pro tempore, and chair of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; also served on the Council’s Judiciary, Economic Development, and Housing and Human Services committees.Former counsel to U.S. Senate Antitrust and Monopolies Subcommittee and former attorney and adviser with the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.Served 5 1/2 years in the U.S. Air Force.Lobbying Highlights: Lowes Enterprise Inc., lobbying in regard to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development use agreement as it pertains to affordable housing, 2006.Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., lobbying to promote benefits of the D.C. Healthcare Alliance Network, 2005.Quarter Furniture Manufacturers Association, lobbying in support of Hoekstra-Frank proposal to require competition for federal prison industries and raise congressional benefits of competition within the prison industry, 2004.Campbell Foundry Co., lobbying on issues related to customs service and duty imposition, 2001.Membership/Activities: On the board of directors for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, and Stoddard Baptist Home for Senior Citizens; member of the D.C. Bar Association, the Washington Bar Association, the Federal City Council, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and the Committee on Potomac Conference Regionalism. Co-chair of the Greater Washington, D.C., Regional Board of Operation HOPE Inc.

LT: You were an advocate of slots in D.C. Do you still support slots in the District? RAY: I’d take one exception to the term “slots.” I realize that’s what The Washington Post and others say. This was video lottery terminals, and what was not clear on that, if you read the legislation, this was tied into the lottery system that exists today. What this was was to put these electronic terminals [into liquor stores] so you don’t have to stand on the side and scratch off your tickets; you just play them on the terminal. This was run by the lottery and based on a lottery system. This was not like a slot-machine system you see in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.


LT: If so, why wasn’t this distinction made clear? RAY: Because The Washington Post was against it and just called it “slots.”
LT: What about development in areas that haven’t been gentrified yet? You are the chief lobbyist for Korean businessman Sang Oh Choi, who is spearheading the redevelopment proposal for the Florida Avenue Market. RAY: That’s coming up for a vote on the 5th of December, but again, let me also correct what might be a perception there. This proposal did not come from Mr. Choi. Back in 2003, the Office of Planning held a meeting at the market [along with mayoral candidate/Council member Vincent Orange and Deputy Mayor Stan Jackson] in the lounge of the farmers market and basically said to all the vendors, both the leaseholders and property holders, “This is our vision for the market.” The Metrorail was coming there, and that was going to change the dynamics of the market, and they wanted to make sure they could stay there. They were told to come up with a plan or vision for the market. Choi was the only person in the market who took up that challenge. He very much wanted to stay in the market. He has been there for 20 years and been very successful. This is a project that, frankly, can be a model for the city and a way that the city should be developing large parts of the land so they can keep the so-called middle-class worker in the city who, frankly, has very little help.
LT: But you do represent Mr. Choi? RAY: Yes, I represent him.
LT: Washington City Paper said you donated $25,000 to Vincent Orange’s exploratory committee for mayor. Was that the best move? RAY: Twenty-five thousand is an incorrect figure. It was $15,000 to the exploratory committee. I gave $10,000 and my wife gave $5,000. There was an exploratory committee. Fenty had one. Orange had one. [Former mayoral hopeful] Michael Brown, too. I can’t remember if Linda Cropp had one. Yes, I contributed to the Orange campaign for mayor, along with Fenty’s campaign for mayor and Linda Cropp’s campaign for mayor. And I thought they were all good candidates. Linda Cropp and Vincent Orange are longtime friends of mine. Vincent Orange and my kids are all friends and went to the same school. My relationship with the City Council is not with one member.
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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