Though Tuesday’s council meeting was at times contentious, the members did come together to pass broad restrictions on outdoor smoking, including banning lighting up within 25 feet of any city park, recreation center or bus stop.
The mere fact that the council was at work Tuesday stood out in a city where hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors made only brief appearances at their offices to turn in BlackBerrys and close up shop until Congress can reach a spending agreement.
The council openly delighted in the contrast, voting unanimously to support an emergency bill calling for the mayor to keep the city open for the duration of the federal shutdown. The measure was largely symbolic but put the council squarely behind Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who last week defied Congress and past precedent by declaring the District’s entire 30,000-member workforce as essential personnel.
Gray made a rare appearance in the council chamber and thanked the council for the vote.
“I really think it is a seminal moment for our city that the executive and the legislative branch have come together on this hugely important issue,” Gray said after being invited to address the council by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). Gray called it “a very powerful statement on behalf of the 630,000 people in the city.”
D.C. officials have has been awaiting a ruling from President Obama’s budget office on Gray’s decision to declare all city workers essential. The mayor acknowledged “a very cooperative, collegial discussion” with the office Monday. But he said there has been no conclusion yet.
The city’s government is being funded out of a special reserve fund, containing $218 million or more, which could keep it operational for roughly two weeks. “That makes it a lot less contentious at this stage,” Gray said.
Council harmony frayed during a last-ditch effort by Mendelson and council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) to move forward with the first election of the District’s attorney general, who is currently appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
District voters overwhelmingly supported a measure in 2010 that called for holding the first election in 2014.
This summer, however, the plan began to unravel, and the council voted, 8 to 5, to postpone the election until 2018, arguing that an ongoing debate over the structure and responsibilities of the office, as well as a lack of declared candidates, made proceeding with the election unwise.