Republicans Target MWAA as Campaign Issue
GOP blames authority’s ails on U.S. Senate hopeful, former governor Tim Kaine.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th District), who previously pushed legislation through to expand Virginia’s representation on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of directors, has now introduced legislation to completely rework that board, heavily weighting it toward Virginia.
Wolf joined a group of Republicans in front of the old Loudoun Courthouse on Tuesday to decry MWAA and blame many of its woes on U.S. Senate hopeful Tim Kaine (D), a former governor of Virginia.
"Both airports, the Dulles Toll Road and the Silver Line extension are all in Virginia," Wolf said. "Would anyone think that Virginia should have majority control over the operations of Baltimore Washington International Airport or the development of the H Street Corridor in the District? This clearly makes no sense."
Under Wolf’s proposed legislation, the board would be cut from 13 members to nine, six of whom would be appointed by the governor of Virginia. The District of Columbia and the state of Maryland would have one seat each; the federal government would hold the last.
As U.S. Senate hopeful Tim Kaine (D), former governor of Virginia, expressed his support for Wolf's latest piece of legislation on the matter, his main opponent, George Allen (R) in this November's race along with other Republicans are attempting to pin the authority’s woes on the Democrat.
Allen, also a former Virginia governor, stood by Wolf’s legislation, calling on Kaine in the meantime to ask appointee Dennis Martire, who is currently battling with Gov. Bob McDonnell over his dismissal, to step down and drop his lawsuit.
“I call on Tim Kaine to publicly demand that his union official appointee, Dennis Martire, drop his lawsuit and leave the board before any more unnecessary legal costs are added to the bill that taxpayers and toll road users are already footing,” Allen said.
Kaine issued a statement endorsing Wolf’s new MWAA bill and praising Wolf’s work exposing problems with its board of directors.
"Frank Wolf has been a key part of Rail to Dulles,” Kaine said. “We worked together to get the project off the drawing board and under construction. We worked together to secure Phase I federal funding. His proposal to fix the federal law structuring the MWAA Board makes good sense."
Kaine did not address calls to ask Martire to resign or the blame being placed on him for his MWAA appointee.
Wolf: 'This Board is Broken'
"It's been disappointing to read stories about MWAA board activities, including the latest stories today regarding excessive lobbyist payments," Kaine said in his statement. "These sideshows make it more difficult for the professional staff to do the job of operating the airports and completing the critical extension of the Silver Line to Dulles and Loudoun."
Wolf said he also is concerned about a U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General report due out this fall. A preliminary report released in May was highly critical of the board, raising concerns over its contracting practices, transparency and ethics.
"The MWAA board in place today is not what was envisioned 25 years ago," Wolf said. "This board is broken and broken badly."
Virginia Sen. Dick Black (R-13th District) joined his fellow Republicans in blaming Kaine for "unlawfully" turning control of the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line project and Dulles Toll Road fares over to MWAA, "one of the most corrupt ineffective agencies in the entire country."
Allen agreed tolls were among the biggest concerns.
"For folks who live here in Loudoun County as well as Fairfax, what the airport's authority is doing is really a burden to people who have to pay these high tolls," he said, saying Kaine should have obtain some way to protect users from excessive rates.
Wolf raised another new concern with a recent incident at MWAA. He said an MWAA board member — believed to be Tom Davis — left the boardroom only to return and find his personal papers had been confiscated and turned over to MWAA's counsel. The situation resulted is a series of subpoenas filed between board members and against those scrutinizing MWAA, including Wolf.
"The board is dysfunctional," Wolf said. "MWAA used to have a well-functioning and highly successful board. Now it has just dissolved into bitter acrimony."
Wolf pointed to recent stories in the media investigating the MWAA board's activities:
On July 31, The Examiner reported that MWAA created a $180,000-a-year job for a board member who was stepping down for health reasons. Other former board members reportedly received similar types of benefits from MWAA.
On Aug. 1, the editorial page of The Washington Post exposed the MWAA board's $200,000 payment to an individual who had expected to be appointed CEO.
On Aug. 2, The Examiner reported U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was outraged by the news of a former board member receiving a six-figure salary and that he instructed his department to explore "all options to put an end to any preferential treatment — real or perceived — showed to board insiders."
Other Republicans who joined Allen, Black and Wolf at the podium included Supervisor Ken Reid (Leesburg), Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th), Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34th) and Del. David Ramadan (R-87th).
The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday it supports Wolf's bill to change MWAA's representation.