Live on Cable: Your District Council and Its Latest Drama

Phil Mendelson is the new (but interim) chairman of the District of Columbia Council. Who would have thunk it?

Yet, it was obvious after Chairman Kwame Brown resigned after admitting to bank fraud, something quickly and quietly had to be done. Mendelson, a veteran, amiable, and not ethically challenged at-large Council member, was, by vote of his colleagues on an 11-1 count, accorded the title of interim council chairman until a special election (along with the general election) can be held on November 6.

The only nay vote came from at-large council member Vincent Orange, who, perhaps flush with two victories (to complete a term and to get a full term) for an at-large seat, isn’t happy unless he’s running for something.

Orange didn’t fight hard for the chairmanship since it was obvious that the council had coalesced around the steady, honest Mendelson but he did go for the council’s chairman pro tempore, and took a loss by an 8-4 vote. It was fight day at the council for this debate, and Orange went down fighting—or at least comparing himself to fighter Manny Pacquiao, a welterweight fighter who last a tough decision recently. According to the Washington Post, which headlined the proceedings as “Fierce Uproar on D.C. Council,” Orange insisted that “I am the best,” and he did so loudly if you got to watch the video of the contratemps.

Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander teared up as she watched the council erupt in charges and counter charges and warned that anything could happen and that any one of them could walk out in handcuffs.

The council gave the positon of chairman pro tempore to Michael Brown, still going as an independent, even if his late father Ron Brown had been commerce secretary under President Clinton. Brown, too, has had a little black ethics cloud over his head, which Orange, Ward 8 council member Marion Barry and others pointed out. He did plead guilty in 1997 to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation and had financial problems similar to those that got Kwame Brown in trouble.

Barry—not shy of using hyperbole—warned that this was like “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” that things hadn’t been this bad since 9/11. He pointed out Brown’s tax problems, and so the kettle had to listen to the pot. Barry has been in tax trouble himself among other things.

The whole thing—check the video in part—seemed unseemly. Soon enough, what with Barry making charges, his own troubles—jail for a sitting mayor—came up going back to 1990.

Mendelson spoke quietly but eloquently about the reputation of the council: “Right now,” he said, “the symbol of this council is tarnished. Some people have even lost faith in our citizens’ ability to elect good government which imperils not only this institution but the autonomy of the District overall.”

“I ask everyone to pursue with me a very basic goal: Let us be honest, let us act with integrity, let us become individually and collectively an institution people can trust.”

Sounds simple. After the vote, someone was heard to say that “It’s over.” In November, both Mendelson and Orange have indicated they will run for chairman of the council. So, it’s probably not over.


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