Several D.C. Council members hope that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen decides by July whether charges will be filed against elected officials at the center of two investigations into District political campaigns.
In recent interviews with the Washington Post, several council members said a quick decision in the probes into the campaigns of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) would make it easier for the city to schedule a special election if one were needed.
They said taxpayers would save money if a special election could be held on the same day as the Nov. 6 general election. Combining the two elections would also result in higher turnout for the special election than if it was held on its own.
Under federal law, the city must hold special elections on the first Tuesday 114 days after a vacancy is declared. But a special election can be held 60 days after a vacancy if an election is already scheduled. A bill by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D, pending in the U.S. Senate, would reduce the 114 day time-span to 70 days.
With a special election potentially costing taxpayers more than $1 million, several council members said it makes sense to couple any election for mayor or chairman with the presidential contest. If the investigations were resolved by July, the body would also have time to appoint an interim chairman while still giving the candidates enough time to run credible fall campaigns.
“My hope is, if we are going to do this, lets do it quickly,” said one council member, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about sensitive internal discussions. “Lets bring pressure: If there are going to be resignations, lets get it done, in a month, so we can have special elections and then start (2013) off with a new start.”
There have been no public indications that either the investigation into Gray’s campaign 2010 or Brown’s 2008 campaign will result in either figure being charged, much less have to resign from office.
Both Gray and Brown have denied any wrongdoing.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment, but Machen has previously stated that investigators are working around the clock to finish the probes as quickly as possible.
But several council members said they fear open-ended investigations, noting they are casting a cloud of uncertainty across the District government.
‘I have a lot of concern that the investigations are a weight on the government,” said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large). “I understand, on one hand, that the U.S. Attorney has to be thorough and cannot leave any lead unexplored. At the same time, for any government that is under investigation, it’s just really hard to function.”
Mendelson added the government “needs to be able to move forward putting its house in order.”
If there were a vacancy in the chairman’s seat, the council would select a new interim chairman from the four existing at-large members until a special election could be held, according to the Home Rule charter.
Mendelson or Council member Vincent B. Orange would likely have an advantage to win the temporary appointment because both are Democrats. But to be able to rally a majority of the body, both might have to pledge not to run in the special election.
If Brown stepped down as chairman but remained on the council, Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she would serve as interim chair because she is president pro-tempore of the body.
If Gray stepped aside for some reason, the council chairman would become mayor until a special election could be held.