“We need a calm and steady hand, and that is Phil,” said David A. Catania (I-At Large). “He’s not the most dynamic, but given all the other sideshows we have going on right now, that is exactly what we need.”
Mendelson faces a strong challenge, however, from Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who lost a 2010 bid for the chairmanship to Brown (D). Mendelson and Orange jockeyed for support Thursday as the allegations against Brown expanded to include finance misdeeds dating to his 2008 campaign.
Orange, who served as Ward 5’s council member from 1999 to 2007 and highlighted irregularities in Brown’s campaign finances in 2010, suggested that Mendelson had not locked up the requisite votes and did not have the gravitas and political skills needed to lead a tainted council.
“I’m for keeping the council moving forward, maintaining the status quo while all of us as a collective body figure out the best way to address the upcoming elections,” said Orange, who roamed the John A. Wilson Building on Thursday, frantically trying to upend Mendelson’s apparent advantage.
The scramble for chairman, a position that holds great sway over the council’s legislative agenda, underscores how Brown’s departure has affected District politics and could change the face of city government. The council, and then voters, will select a new leader as several federal investigations continue into city government and campaigns, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 bid.
Brown stepped down Wednesday after being charged with including falsified documents on a home-equity loan application. Prosecutors said he used the proceeds to purchase a 38-foot boat, which he named “Bullet Proof.”
On Thursday, prosecutors filed an additional charge against Brown — aiding and abetting a campaign finance violation. The new charge is a local misdemeanor count, which is less serious than the federal bank-fraud felony he was charged with on Wednesday. But the new charge implies wrongdoing in his 2008 campaign for reelection as an at-large council member — the focus of federal scrutiny since a city audit last year identified more than $250,000 in unreported contributions and expenditures.
Brown is expected to plead guilty in separate hearings Friday in the District’s federal and Superior courts. He did not speak publicly Thursday, but as his former staff members worked inside his locked office in the Wilson Building, his former colleagues elsewhere in the building started jockeying over his successor.