Marion Barry: Council Is ‘Laughingstock of the Nation’

Ben Nuckols, WTOP (Washington), June 14, 2012

Phil Mendelson was selected Wednesday as interim chairman of the scandal-plagued D.C. Council, pledging to restore trust in a legislative body that’s lost two members this year to criminal convictions.

But while Mendelson’s colleagues voted unanimously to install him in the interim post, the fight over interim chairman pro tempore, a largely ceremonial position, was contentious and exposed deep divisions in the 12-member council.

Michael A. Brown, an at-large independent who is not related to ex-Council Chairman Kwame Brown, was ultimately tapped for the position after a vigorous challenge from Vincent Orange, an at-large Democrat who brought up Brown’s past failures to pay his taxes and his 1997 guilty plea to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation. Orange was backed by Councilmember Marion Barry, the former four-term mayor who called this year’s turmoil the most serious crisis the District government has faced since the beginning of home rule in 1973.

“The city’s in serious trouble, credibility trouble,” Barry said. “We are the laughingstock of the nation.”

Councilmember Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, said then-mayor Barry’s 1990 arrest for smoking crack in a hotel room, among other crises in the 1990s, were worse than the current problems.

Orange said he was better-suited to the role of chairman pro tempore because of Michael Brown’s past and compared himself to welterweight boxer Manny Pacquiao, who lost over the weekend in a widely criticized split decision.

“I’m the best! I’m the best!” he shouted. “Right now, Vincent Bernard Orange Sr. is the best candidate for chairman pro tempore.”

Michael Brown said voters were well aware of his record and elected him anyway. Ultimately, the council voted 8-4 in Brown’s favor, and then 11-1 on a resolution installing both Mendelson and Brown.

Councilmember Yvette Alexander chided Orange for his tactics, saying they reflected poorly on the council.

“When we’re so self-righteous, tomorrow we could be in handcuffs,” Alexander said, drawing laughter.

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Mendelson replaces Kwame Brown, who resigned last week after he was charged with lying on bank loan applications. Brown pleaded guilty to that bank fraud charge along with a misdemeanor campaign finance violation.

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The D.C. Council is a unique body that serves the functions of a local, municipal and state legislature. Council chairman is the District’s second-highest local elected office, and Mendelson will wield considerable influence over the city’s spending and legislative agenda. Should Mayor Vincent Gray leave office, Mendelson would succeed him, which would make him the first white mayor in the city’s history.

Gray, a Democrat, is the subject of a federal investigation for activities during his 2010 campaign, and two aides have already pleaded guilty to funneling payments to a minor mayoral candidate and trying to cover it up. Gray has denied knowledge of the payments and has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

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In addition to Kwame Brown, former councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. stepped down this year after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $350,000 from the city. {snip}

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