The D.C. Council handily rejected a proposal by member Vincent B. Orange to declare an “ethics emergency” in city government, decrying the effort as a gimmick designed to boost Orange’s political ambitions.
By a vote of 12 to 1, with Orange (D-At Large) casting the only vote in favor, the council opposed emergency legislation to set up an independent special committee to evaluate new ethics proposals.
Orange had argued that the move, which he first outlined during his campaign this spring, was needed to instill public confidence in a council on which some members are facing a host of ethical questions. But council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, strenuously argued that Orange was trying to circumvent ongoing efforts to draft a comprehensive ethics bill before the end of the year.
“We must resist the inclination to throw something up on the wall and hope it sticks,” said Bowser, who will hold a hearing Oct. 26 on a half-dozen ethics bills that have been submitted by members. “This is not my process; this is our process.”
In the months immediately after his victory in the April 26 special election, Orange largely kept an unassuming presence on the 13-member body. But Orange, often mentioned as a future candidate for mayor or council chairman, has been sharpening his voice on the body since members returned from summer recess in mid-September.
During Tuesday’s debate, he directly challenged his colleagues’ motivation for opposing his emergency legislation.
“If people want to vote this legislation down, vote it down, but don’t mislead the people on the reason for voting it down,” Orange said. Later, he added: “Yes, we are afraid. We are afraid to have someone else look at us.”
Bowser, also mentioned as a potential future candidate for mayor or chairman, shot back that Orange was “campaigning from the dais.”
“I would remind my colleague, it is incumbent on us to separate ourselves from the campaign trail, just for a second,” Bowser said.
Other council members voiced other concerns about Orange’s proposal.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who has also been trying to position himself as the council’s ethical compass, noted that Orange’s bill would require the special committee to meet out of public view.
Still, Orange succeeded in forcing some of his colleagues to take what they consider a tough vote.
When it was clear Orange would fall far short of the nine votes needed to approve the emergency legislation, council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) asked that he pull the bill.
“This legislation will put some of us in a position where we feel awkward,” Mendelson said. “If we were to vote against this emergency, we could feel we would be voting on the wrong way on the issue of ethics.”
But Orange pressed ahead, not only demanding a vote but also that each member be recorded individually instead of in a voice vote.
“When I introduce legislation, I don’t pull legislation,” Orange said in an interview after the council session. “I go all the way to the end.”
So does Bowser. After the vote, Orange and Bowser could be heard bickering as they got into the elevator over which one made the debate “personal.”