But Catania couldn’t stay focused, Lang said.
Is the D.C. Council in malaise mode?
For nearly an hour, she said, Catania (I-At large) complained about his colleagues, the mayor and what he called the council’s “dysfunction.”
“I spent an hour in there and we never got back to talking about why I was there,” Lang said.
Their exchange is a striking illustration of what troubles city activists, labor leaders and lobbyists: The D.C. Council is so preoccupied with feuds and ethical scandals that some of them have pulled back on meaningful legislative action until next year amid mounting concern that a local legislature most recently regarded as a trendsetter has become stale and uninspired.
George “Geo” T. Johnson, president of the AFSCME Council 20, said he decided several months ago that because of the “many distractions” on the council he would wait until next year before pursuing an agenda to reopen some contracts and build more workforce housing.
“As you get older, you just try to understand and be patient,” he said.
The council is torn among factions that include the traditional white-black split and more recent personality-driven divisions as members try to distance themselves from its tarnished image. And with two council members under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office — four others have managedpublic-relations crises ranging from failure to pay taxes to a staff member who illegally accepted a cash payment — nervous sniping seems the new norm among council members.
Business leaders and advocates said they understand the District can’t undertake costly, new initiatives with a city budget starved by the national economic downturn. But what’s missing, they said, is a sense of confidence that the city can overcome its scandal-plagued funk — perhaps through a coherent legislative strategy that positions the District for more prosperous times.
“I think there is a sense of malaise in the city,” said Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the former president of George Washington University. “I like almost all of these guys. I know them, but they are a source of some disappointment . . . They seem to have fallen to hubris.”
Trying to focus
The previous council approved landmark legislation, including near-universal health insurance, same-sex marriage, a 5-cent tax on plastic bags and some of the nation’s most rigorous school-lunch regulations.
By comparison, the most significant legislative accomplishments this council period include resolving the city budget, overhauling a city law requiring contractors to hire a certain percentage of District residents and raising taxes on residents who earn more than $350,0000 a year.
Part of the reason for the relative lackluster legislative agenda is that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) — whose campaign is under federal investigation — is not sending significant bills to the council for consideration. While the council and Gray are credited with squaring off a $300 million budget shortfall and launching $2 billion in redevelopment projects this year, observers said the mayor’s legislative agenda has been paper-thin.