Kenyan McDuffie is on the rise

December 21, 2012

McDuffie’s ascension has been rapid. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Tallying up the winners and losers of Thursday’s D.C. Council committee shuffle, there appeared to be one clear winner above all: Ward 5′s Kenyan McDuffie.

Not only did the rookie Democrat keep his seat on the powerful Economic Development committee; not only did he get handed the gavel of the Government Operations panel, more substantial than his current assignment; but Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) tapped McDuffie to serve as his chairman pro tempore.

Assuming the council votes in favor of Mendelson’s plan on Jan. 8, McDuffie will act as chairman when Mendelson is absent or has recused himself.

It’s a mostly symbolic plum, but it quite a distinction for McDuffie, who has been in office six months, to claim it ahead of more senior colleagues. (That includes the council’s most senior member, Ward 2 Democrat Jack Evans, who is still smarting after former chairman Kwame Brown took the post from him in 2011.) In fact, at Thursday’s meeting announcing Mendelson’s realignment, Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) openly disagreed with the pick, noting that McDuffie is the council’s “least seasoned member.”

Mendelson said in an interview after the meeting his selection of McDuffie “sends a signal that there’s some new blood and new energy on the council.” And McDuffie said Mendelson’s pick “speaks to the chairman’s confidence in me.”

But not all is sunshine and lollipops for McDuffie. As chair of Government Operations, he’s now been handed the council’s biggest political hot potato: campaign finance reform. Legislators have been under tremendous outside pressure to overhaul the District’s laws in the wake of recent scandals, but as the council’s failure to move a comprehensive bill — or even a tiny portion of one — shows, members have little stomach for tweaking the laws that helped get them elected.

In comments Thursday, McDuffie pledged to move a campaign finance bill next year, but he was noncommittal on how quickly it might happen.

Other outtakes:

• Mendelson acknowledged some labor leaders had “misgivings” about giving the education committee chair to David A. Catania (I-At Large), a former Republican who has often been at odds with public employee unions. Catania said he met with Washington Teachers’ Union President Nathan Saunders to get off on the right foot. But Saunders, told Thursday of Mendelson’s pick, did not betray much excitement. “Wow,” he said, when told of Catania’s pick. Saunders acknowledged a “very protracted conversation” with Catania about him education matters. Catania’s new role, Saunders said, stands to create an “interesting dynamic” that is “going to present challenges as well as opportunities.”

• Mendelson told his colleagues Thursday he “tried to avoid diminishing anyone’s sense of stature” in making his leadership choices. That meant some assignments that defied policy logic if not political logic. Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) keeps oversight of alcoholic beverage matters in his Human Services portfolio. Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) remains the council’s Metro board representative, even though she has not been Transportation committee chair. And parks and recreation is now under Marion Barry’s Workforce and Community Affairs committee, while libraries are with Catania’s Education panel. Mendelson is keeping planning and zoning matters in the Committee of the Whole, under his own control, along with the University of the District of Columbia.

Here’s a full list of the new committee assignments:

Workforce and Community Affairs: Marion Barry, chair. Yvette Alexander, Jim Graham, Kenyan McDuffie, Tommy Wells.

Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs: Vincent B. Orange, chair. Yvette Alexander, Mary Cheh, Jim Graham, David Grosso.

Economic Development: Muriel Bowser, chair. Anita Bonds, Jack Evans, Kenyan McDuffie, Vincent Orange.

Finance and Revenue: Jack Evans, chair. Marion Barry, Muriel Bowser, David Catania, David Grosso.

Health: Yvette Alexander, chair. Anita Bonds, David Catania, David Grosso, Vincent Orange.

Judiciary: Tommy Wells, chair. Anita Bonds, Muriel Bowser, Mary Cheh, Jack Evans.

Education: David Catania, chair. Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry, David Grosso, Tommy Wells.

Government Operations: Kenyan McDuffie, chair. Muriel Bowser, David Catania, Mary Cheh, Vincent Orange.

Human Services: Jim Graham, chair. Marion Barry, Anita Bonds, Kenyan McDuffie, Tommy Wells.

Transportation and the Environment: Mary Cheh, chair. Jack Evans, Jim Graham, Kenyan McDuffie, Tommy Wells.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · December 21, 2012