The D.C. Council unanimously approved a proposal Tuesday for voters to select the city attorney instead of allowing the mayor to fill the position.
But the decision, which still must reaffirmed with a second vote later this month, does not mean there will be an elected attorney general anytime soon. For the change to be implemented, Congress would have to amend the city's Home Rule charter.
Until then, the bill would also require that attorneys general serve a four-year term upon being appointed by the mayor and by a D.C. Bar member in good standing for at least seven years, with some exceptions.
Before the vote, council members engaged in a lengthy debate about ramifications of their decision.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large), the sponsor of the bill, stressed the legislation was not aimed at undermining the current attorney general, Peter Nickles.
Mendelson noted that 43 states elect their attorney generals.
"This legislation clarifies the law, that the attorney general serves the public interests," Mendelson said.
But it was clear during the debate that Nickles, a close ally of Fenty who has frequently sparred with the council, was helping to drive the issue.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who frequently clashes with Nickles, said taxpayers need an attorney general who is independent of the mayor.
"The attorney general should not be the attorney for the mayor, the mayor already has an attorney, it's called counselor to the mayor," Cheh said. "This will make it plain, which is already in the law but has not been followed in recent years, that the attorney general represents us, represents the people of the District of Columbia."
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), an ally of the mayor, also supported Mendelson's bill even he voted against it in a committee vote last month.
But Evans questioned the need for the change.
"One of my concerns is that by electing an attorney general, we may not get the top quality person in the job that we want," Evans said.
-- Tim Craig