Unable to resolve the differences, and with the April 2014 Democratic primary rapidly approaching, the council voted 8 to 5 to postpone the election until 2018.
“We are just not ready for this,” said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who engineered the delay. “We are putting in place something that, frankly, worries me.”
Evans muscled his proposal past a clearly agitated council chairman, Phil Mendelson (D), who opposed the delay. His voice quivering in anger, Mendelson called the vote “an embarrassment.” He said afterward that he would work through the summer to persuade a majority of his colleagues to vote in the fall to hold the election as planned next year.
In other action at its last meeting before a two-month recess, the council also voted 8 to 5 in favor of a bill requiring certain large retailers to pay employees a 50 percent premium over the city’s minimum wage, one day after Wal-Mart warned that passage of the “living wage” law would lead it to cancel plans for three of six stores planned in the city.
Other significant actions included votes to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, restrict smoking outdoors and impose penalties on motorists who fail to yield to bicyclists.
The busy agenda also included the introduction of several measures that could shape the fall legislative session, including a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
The vote to delay the election of an attorney general for four years marked a major reversal for the council, which first moved in 2009 to have an elected attorney general instead of one appointed by the mayor. At the time, council members were worried that then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s attorney general, Peter Nickles, was too unaccountable.
Since then, council members have appeared uneasy about how much authority an elected attorney general, who would oversee 350 city attorneys, would yield in city government. Gray and some council members have questioned whether an elected attorney general could perform the job and still fulfill the responsibility to provide legal advice to the mayor.
Gray and his appointed attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, proposed the creation of a legal office that would provide legal advice to city agencies independently of the elected attorney general.
When that measure came up for a vote Wednesday night, Evans amended it to delay the election. He noted that, so far, few lawyers or politicians have expressed an interest in running for the $190,000-a-year job.“There is great concern about who is going to run for this and who is going to get elected to this,” Evans said. “There is concern about what the elected attorney general would control and not control.”