The Mark Center issue has fallen off the public radar in recent years, and we must admit that the transition has not caused as much as a problem as was predicted and expected by the media. But the issue has still caused headaches for a number of commuters. But the story still needs to be told as a question of Jim Moran’s real interests when it comes to this issue.
The comprehensive story, originally written in 2011, is presented below with some new details added since it was first published.
SPECIAL REPORT: JIM MORAN AND THE MARK CENTER
The Mark Center is a massive 3.1 million square foot Department of Defense office complex that was recently completed in Alexandria along I-395 near the Seminary Road exit at a cost to taxpayers of $760 million. The complex has attracted massive controversy as Northern Virginia commuters question why thousands of federal workers must be moved to a huge new office building along one of the most congested corridors in the region with no Metro stop and no real plan to alleviate the increased traffic (beyond an additional HOV exit which will take years to complete).
First, the basics. Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is a process carried out by the Defense Department and Congress when consolidation of military bases and resources is needed. The most recent BRAC process began in 2005, with the changes scheduled to be implemented no later than September 2011. It was decided in 2005 that DOD offices in Crystal City would be closed and the 6,400 federal workers who work there would be relocated to one of four sites – the Victory Center at Eisenhower Avenue, the Engineer Proving Ground at Fort Belvoir, the General Services Administration facility in Springfield, or the Mark Center site in Alexandria.
The Fort Belvoir site was ruled out after a study showed that it would cause major congestion along 395 and Route 1. The Eisenhower Avenue site, sandwiched between 395 and the Beltway with easy access from the Van Dorn Street Metro station, would have been manageable. However, the clearest choice appeared to be the GSA facility in Springfield, which is close to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station and was already owned by the federal government.
But in October 2008, the Army announced it had chosen the Mark Center site, saying considerations of “cost, the schedule, security requirements, transportation and other critical factors” led them to choose the Mark Center. That same October day, Jim Moran issued a statement praising the decision: “Preventing the Washington Headquarters Service [a division of DOD] from moving to the Engineer Proving Ground [at Fort Belvoir] benefits the region’s commuters. Transportation studies showed that locating the headquarters there as dictated in the Army’s original plan would increase commuting times along I-395 and Route 1 by two to three hours per day. In that respect, this decision is a victory for Northern Virginia commuters.”[2a], [2b] [Emphasis added.]
Shortly after the decision was announced, the federal government bought the Mark Center land, totaling 16 acres, for $105 million from Duke Realty. Three weeks after the sale, Dennis Oklak, CEO of Duke Realty and a resident of Indiana, made a maximum $2,300 contribution to Jim Moran’s re-election campaign. On the same day, Oklak — whose campaign finance history shows he donates almost exclusively to Republicans — also made a maximum $5,000 contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
After Clark Construction was contracted to build the Mark Center towers for $695 million, Clark executives contributed $10,900 to Moran’s campaign.
As the public learned of the gridlock on I-395 the Mark Center move had the potential to create, Moran became very vocal, embarking on a media blitz pretending he had nothing to do with the Mark Center choice and was powerless to stop it, even though he is the senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and thus carries enormous clout over these decisions, and nothing of this scale happens in the 8th District without him having a say. He was re-elected in November 2010 after promising to fight the looming Mark Center disaster.
Moran began pushing hard to delay and impede the move. In 2010, he inserted language into the 2011 defense authorization bill capping parking at the Mark Center site at 1000 spaces, saying, “They can fill the office building as long as they don’t drive to it.” Delaying the move would keep DOD in their Crystal City offices (also within the 8th District) as long as possible.
Here’s the twist. Vornado Realty owned the building in which the DOD’s Crystal City offices were located. If the 6,400 DOD workers in their building were to move, Vornado and the surrounding businesses which serve the workers would take a huge hit. So a month after it was decided in May 2005 that the workers would be relocated, Vornado hired the powerhouse lobbying firm Patton Boggs.
On August 26, 2005, Moran got $500 checks from four Vornado corporate executives, including Vornado’s CEO and president. The money continued to flow, as Vornado executives repeatedly contributed identical amounts to Moran on the same day. On September 14, 2007, seven Vornado executives contributed $500 each and two more contributed $250 each. On September 8, 2008, as the decision loomed, six Vornado executives contributed $2,000 each. And on October 28, 2010, as the controversy raged, five Vornado executives contributed the maximum $2,400 each.
Moran received a total of $17,000 from Vornado executives and the Vornado PAC in the 2008 election cycle. The money also flowed from Patton Boggs – $9,900 in the 2005-2006 cycle and $9,700 in 2007-2008 from Patton Boggs executives and its corporate PAC. After the Pentagon announced in 2009 it would keep its Crystal City lease with Vornado through 2014 and as Moran began pushing to delay the Mark Center move, the money from Patton Boggs increased to $11,600 in 2009-2010. Vornado executives gave Moran a total of $16,800 in 2009-2010, the second-most of any company or group in that period.
To summarize, Moran allowed and applauded the choice of the Mark Center, and raked in campaign cash from the companies who benefited from the choice. Then, after getting campaign cash from the company who would lose big from the choice and realizing he could harness public outrage for his own gain, he started trying to stop DOD from moving to the Mark Center.
Jim Moran benefited from this whole mess. He managed to convince voters that he was fighting for them, while he was taking cash on the side from company executives. In May 2011, he had the audacity to say, “I just have to say [I am] disgusted with some of the people who, either through indifference or wrongheadedness, have allowed this to happen.”
Addendum: In 2011 during a forum sponsored by Moran, yours truly was told by Moran’s chief of staff that our assertions were false and that the facts we presented attendees in fliers were not true. I gave him my email address and phone number, and asked him to send me a rebuttal/response and I would publish it verbatim on RetireJimMoran.com. I have not heard from him since. Also in 2011, yours truly called into a radio show on WAMU 88.5 on which Moran was discussing the Mark Center and confronted him directly with the facts. He said I was telling falsehoods, but you can check the sources for yourself.