By Carten Cordell | Virginia Statehouse News
ALEXANDRIA — As stories of sweetheart contract deals come to light — along with tales of even sweeter trips for Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority board members — former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine may be sweating under the collar.
Or is he?
Polls show support for MWAA’s Silver Line Metro runs the gamut from favorable in Northern Virginia to no worse than tepid statewide. Despite that, Kaine’s U.S. Senate opponents are ready to take issue with the former governor’s involvement with MWAA and its $5.57 billion Silver Line metro project.
Kaine, who hopes to replace retiring Sen. Jim Webb, will face three accusations:
- That he was instrumental in authorizing the 23-mile metro rail project, including cost overruns of $150 million
- Surrendering operation of the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA
- And appointing organized labor leader Dennis L. Martire to the authority’s board of directors
Each decision has generated controversy, and while MWAA continues to take hits for lack of transparency and oversight, GOP candidates are lining up to link Kaine to cronyism and fiscal abuse on the Silver Line and at MWAA.
Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, who is running for the Republican Senate nomination, said Kaine gave operation of the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA despite a 2002 General Accounting Office report citing the authority’s lax policies regarding sweetheart contracts.
“I told (Kaine) back in 2006, when he transferred the toll road that MWAA had these problems,” he told Old Dominion Watchdog. “It had these cost-overrun problems, lack of oversight, sole-source bid problems and cozy contract relationships.”
Handing the toll road to MWAA transformed the road into a major funding source for Silver Line construction. Critics say MWAA will hike tolls to help pay for the $5.57 billion project.
“An Australian consortium offered Virginia up to $6 billion over 50 years to run the toll road, and they were going to let us determine the toll rates. Kaine rejected that and instead gave it to his political friends,” Marshall said.
The Kaine campaign noted the toll road deal received bipartisan support from many Republicans at the time, including former governor and current Senate candidate George Allen.
“The project never made it off the drawing board until Governor Kaine led a bipartisan coalition of local, state, and federal officials, including Gerry Connolly, Tom Davis, Frank Wolf, Jim Moran, George Allen and John Warner, which recommended MWAA manage this complex project,” Kaine communications director Brandi Hoffine said in a statement emailed to Old Dominion Watchdog.
Fellow GOP candidate and tea party darling Jamie Radtke said she would like to reconstitute the authority so it answers to Virginia, rather than watch it operate in the void between federal and state law.
“MWAA basically does whatever the heck they want,” she said. “This is impacting Virginia. It is not impacting Maryland, it is not impacting the District of Columbia the way it is impacting the Commonwealth of Virginia. We need to have a greater say, and you can’t have that if MWAA is not responsible to you.”
Another potential thorn in Kaine’s side is his 2009 appointment of Dennis Martire to the MWAA board of directors. Martire is an official with the Laborer’s International Union of North America, a construction union that claims 500,000 members.
Martire’s union ties alone would make him controversial. Among other concerns with MWAA is the agency’s stated preference for union labor on construction of the 11-mile second phase of the Silver Line extension, set to begin in 2013. That has Virginia and Loudoun County upset — even before Martire’s name surfaced again this week when an audit revealed he’d spent $38,000 in MWAA funds to attend five conferences, including a trip to Sardinia that cost $10,586.
“Kaine’s friend, Dennis L. Martire, who he appointed to the MWAA, is now mired in controversy over his travel to exotic places like the Italian island of Sardinia at taxpayer expense,” said the Rev. E.W. Jackson, who is also running for the Republican nomination. “The entire episode shows inexcusably poor judgment on Kaine’s part.”
The board of directors’ spending habits have been of great interest to the media, along with its ongoing feud with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell over spending and Virginia’s representation in the authority.
Kaine spokeswoman Hoffine said her boss “certainly has concerns about many of the points raised by the Inspector General’s recent report on the MWAA Board” and “supports efforts by the U.S. Department of Transportation to increase oversight and promote transparency at MWAA.”
Kyle Kondik, political analyst for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, thinks it’s unlikely voters will tie MWAA’s shortcomings to Kaine.
Kondik cited a May 10 Washington Post poll that 64 percent of responders considered the Silver Line project only somewhat important or not important at all.
“My gut reaction is it probably doesn’t matter that much,” he said. “Kaine’s position lines up with people in Northern Virginia and that is where he is going to get a lot of his votes anyway. I don’t see it as a defining issue in this race.”
He said the race will likely run parallel to whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney has more success in the presidential race.
Kaine is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Allen, Marshall, Radtke and Jackson will square off in the GOP primary June 12.
Allen’s campaign was unable to comment.