Phil Mendelson makes changes with D.C. Council committees

December 20, 2012

Chairman Phil Mendelson took the first steps toward putting his personal stamp on the D.C. Council he has served on for 14 years Thursday, handing his colleagues their committee assignments for the new term.

For the first time since 2006, the council will have a stand-alone education committee. It will be chaired by David A. Catania (I-At Large), the council’s second-longest-serving member.

“This will be very good in intensifying our work on public education,” Mendelson (D) said after announcing the assignments.

For the past six years, education matters were handled by the Committee of the Whole, on which every council member serves. In 2006, the incoming chairman at the time, Vincent C. Gray (D), argued that the structure allowed all members to participate in education debates, but it also gave the chairman great sway over a front-burner political issue.

Catania said he has started preparing for his new assignment, assembling binders with budget, student performance, demographic and personnel information on every public school in the city, both in the D.C. Public Schools and charters.

“It’s going to be a heavy focus on evidence and data and accountability,” said Catania, who is leaving his post atop the council’s health panel. “I’m so excited, I can’t stand it. It is the last and greatest hurdle this city faces.”

Catania had lobbied hard for the education appointment. Mendelson acknowledged some labor leaders had “misgivings” about giving the assignment to Catania, who has often been at odds with public employee unions. But Catania said he met recently with Washington Teachers’ Union President Nathan Saunders to establish a working relationship.

Mendelson handed the reins of the economic development committee to Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), favoring the potential mayoral candidate over colleagues who also sought the powerful post.

Bowser said she planned to use her clout to focus on affordable housing and creating “responsible neighborhood development” across the city. The post gives her an especially influential role in directing development on the former Walter Reed hospital campus in her ward.

In other moves, Mendelson handed the judiciary and public safety committee to Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Also a potential mayoral challenger, Wells has previously focused mainly on transportation and planning issues.Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) will helm the council’s health committee, while Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) takes over a portfolio that includes business-oriented and regulatory agencies. The panel led by Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) will have oversight of employment and community affairs agencies. Other members generally kept their previous assignments.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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