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Wells is popular in his ward, which is anchored on Capitol Hill and includes a swath of Southwest Washington. Since joining the council in 2007, he has styled himself as the guru of the District’s “new urbanist” movement, emphasizing investment in amenities to make city living more attractive. His biggest legislative achievement was the city’s 5-cent shopping bag tax, which he co-sponsored. Wells, who frequently bikes to work, is a champion of activists who promote walking, biking and other green-living issues. But he frustrates his colleagues as being an unreliable ally, more than once changing his mind after they thought they’d secured his support.
During budget hearings in the spring, Wells upset some members by pushing an amendment that made permanent a tax on municipal bonds that was initially adopted as a temporary levy. He also angered some colleagues with his vigorous opposition to a draft redistricting plan that would have moved some Capitol Hill neighborhoods to Ward 7.
But it was his report, as chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, which found that Brown had acted “inappropriately” for ordering a Lincoln Navigator and then rejecting the vehicle when it didn’t meet his specifications, sending officials scurrying to procure another vehicle, that apparently did Wells in.
Brown is indignant at the allegation that he changed Wells’s committee assignment to punish him. Rather, he says, a reorganization became necessary because council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) gave up his chairmanship of the Committee on Economic Development after he was sued by the city for allegedly diverting $300,000 in public money from youth programs, using some of the funds to pay for luxury cars and golfing trips.
“I purposely left Tommy Wells on the transportation committee because I know how important it is to him,” Brown said. He also insists, “Tommy Wells and I are friends.”
For real? “Of course,” Wells said. Then he added: “I can’t get bogged down worrying about who’s my friend and who’s not. I try to treat everyone as a friend, and it’s important that there be civility on the council. . . . It’s about governing the city in a way that works for everybody. Whether we’re friends or not is just not an issue.”
Wells, who had worked to help get Brown elected council chairman, suspects that he was punished for his report on the SUVs, but what was he supposed to do?