Yet, Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown called this session “historic” because the council held a record number of meetings and closed the city’s budget shortfall without deep cuts to social service programs. “The council has held up no legislation that I know of so far,” Brown (D) said. “We don’t run the government, we are legislators.”
This year, members have introduced about 500 bills, about the same number as had been introduced at this point in the prior session. The council has approved about 400 bills and resolutions this year, slightly below last year’s pace, when it cleared some 550 bills and resolutions.
Brown noted he’s working to rewrite the curriculum for middle schools while backing Gray’s efforts to continue school reforms started under former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). On Tuesday, the council approved a major overhaul of a city law requiring contractors to hire a certain percentage of District residents. By the end of the month, the council is expected rewrite city ethics laws.
And Brown, like Gray, notes few other big cities can match the District when it comes to returning the construction cranes to the city skyline. Gray said the city is on track to launch $11 billion in redevelopment projects by 2013.
“What you have are things taking place,” Brown said.
But Lang, who backed Gray for mayor, said business leaders are also frustrated with the government. “I think they are very challenged,” she said. “It’s very difficult to get them to focus on big things.”
The fact that the council designated ethics legislation as a centerpiece of its agenda this session underscores the tumultuous year for some local officials. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating whether Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) diverted more than $300,000 in public funds for personal use, whether Brown steered campaign money to his brother’s company and whether the Gray campaign paid another mayoral candidate to disparage Fenty in last year’s election. All have denied any wrongdoing.
Michael Brown (I-At large) also failed to pay his taxes on time this year while Council member Jim Graham’s (D-Ward 1) former chief of staff pleaded guilty to felony charges of accepting a cash payments. The media also scrutinized Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) on their use of constituent service funds, designed to help need residents.
Jim Abdo, president and founder of Abdo Development Company, said it’s natural for business leaders and activists to “step back” when they see “this level of disorder.”
“You want to have confidence in leadership and stability in leadership, and I think a lot of business people who have been committed to this city for a long time, and have seen it at it worst and seen it at its best, want to step back when they see this level of dysfunction,” said Abdo, whose company has built thousands of apartments and housing units across the city since 1996. “I hear it in business meetings. I now it from the boards I sit on.”