Several D.C. council members said Thursday that Phil Mendelson appears to have “locked up” the support needed to be the next chairman now that Kwame R. Brown has resigned from the post after being charged with fraud for allegedly inflating his income on a home equity loan application.
One day after Brown’s resignation jolted the John A. Wilson Building and plunged the city into a leadership crisis, several members said that Mendelson (D-At large) is almost certain to be elected interim chairman when the body votes on the matter Wednesday.
“Talking to members, it sounds like Phil has this pretty much locked up,” said a council member who has done a vote count but asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about internal deliberations.
But council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large) is vowing he's still a contender for the interim seat.
"In my count, Mr. Mendelson does not have the votes,” Orange said. "I have the skills to be acting chair and maintain the status quo...I'm available. If my colleagues think I should be acting chairman. so be it."
In an interview with the Washington Post, Mendelson said he was optimistic of his chances and announced he’s also likely to compete in the special election to win the job permanently. Mendelson, 59, said he thinks the body needs stability so he hopes to serve as interim chairman at the same he is campaigning in the special election.
“We need an interim chairman who can settle things down and get us back on track,” the four-term lawmaker said. “I certainly know the council, and care very much about the council as an institution and for the city. I think I have shown through my record over the past 14 years, I try to listen to voters in all the segments of the community .”
Following Brown’s resignation Wednesday night, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) became the acting chair of the council because she had previously served as the body’s president pro-tempore.
But under Home Rule, Cheh must convene a meeting so members can elect a new interim chairman from existing at-large members. Cheh has scheduled the voted for Wednesday.
A special election will then be held, perhaps on the same day as the Nov. 6 presidential contest, so voters can select a permanent replacement for Brown.
Mendelson and Council members Orange, Michael A. Brown (I), and David A. Catania (I) are the current at-large members of the council eligible to compete to become interim chair.
Catania said Wednesday night he’s supporting Mendelson for the job. Michael Brown told the Washington Post Thursday he is also supporting Mendelson.
Though council sources say Mendelson is now all but certain to win the interim appointment, Orange has also been gauging his support on the body.
Even if he does not win the interim appointment, Orange said he is considering running for the seat in the special election. "The people tend to be more fair, more open and more objective about what they want to achieve from council members," Orange said. "You can ride around the streets and look at my work. Can you ride around the streets and see things Mendelson has done or achieved?"
Mendelson, who would be only second white chairman of the council since Home Rule, said he’s hopeful that his colleagues can coalesce around him as the “consensus candidate” ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
Mendelson, whose easily beat back challengers in several of his most recent elections, is also optimistic about his chances in the special election.
“This is a time to bring some stability to the council,” said Mendelson, who chairs the Committee of Public Safety and the Judiciary.
Mendelson, who lives in Glover Park, got his start in District politics as a community activist in Northwest in the late 1970s. He later went on to work for former council chairman David A. Clark in the 1980s.
A self-described “nitpicker,” Mendelson has a reputation for being on the body’s most socially progressive members, taking a leading role in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009 as well as maintain stringent gun control laws.
But Mendelson can a times be fiscally conservative, including his recent opposition to repaying city employees for four furlough days they were required to take last year.
In the weeks ahead, numerous candidates from within and outside the government could announce their intention to seek the chairman’s seat.
The race could be fluid, especially if it’s held on the same day as the presidential contest when tens of thousands of voters who don’t usually pay close attention to District politics flock to the polls.
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