Wells, 54, could use the love on this particular steamy, hot morning. It was a little more than a week after the Democrat lost a bruising game of political musical chairs, and the chatter about him had gone from sympathetic to snide.
By a 12 to 1 vote, Wells was ousted from his chairmanship of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation and, along with it, the opportunity to represent the city on the powerful Metro board. His was the single no vote.
The loss of the chairmanship was a big one for Wells, whose supporters cast him as the victim of a vindictive Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D). Brown, they say, orchestrated his ouster because Wells had issued a report critical of Brown for ordering two luxury SUVs at taxpayer expense. His colleagues, who supported Brown’s proposal to reconfigure several committees just before the council went on summer recess, say privately that no one stood up for Wells because he’s just not very well-liked in the council chambers.
No, this is not the playground, but it is politics, and how one plays the game matters. Being the odd man out in any legislative body can be a liability when it comes time to count votes. Or, it could be an asset at this particular moment in D.C. politics, when the mayor’s office and at least three council members are being investigated for possible wrongdoing.
Though he remains on the transportation committee and now oversees the Office of Planning, Wells, who was reelected to his second four-year term last fall, will not say whether his falling out of favor with the council leadership will help his political stature.
“The way the reorganization happened speaks for itself,” he said in a recent interview. He thinks he can still be an effective advocate for his constituents and continue to push his vision of a “livable, walkable city” from his new assignment as head of the Committee on Libraries and Recreation. And most voters couldn’t care less about which committees their council members chair, so long as they are attentive and responsive to constituents’ needs. Political watchers say his political future depends on how, or even whether, Wells uses the incident to his advantage.
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Wells, 54, arrived in the District in 1983 from the University of Minnesota. He’d just earned his master’s degree in social work and didn’t want to go back to Homewood, Ala., a small town just south of Birmingham where he grew up. One of his favorite professors suggested Washington.
“I sold my car for a train ticket,” Wells said. “When I stepped outside of Union Station, the pace of my heart quickened and it hasn’t stopped since. I’m just in love with the city.”