“Right now, the symbol of this council is tarnished,” Mendelson (D) said in a monotone voice that highlights his subdued personality. “Some people have even lost faith in our citizens’ ability to elect good government, which imperils not only this institution but the autonomy of the District overall.”
But the Mendelson vote was overshadowed by a blistering fight on the dais over who should be the council’s chairman pro tempore: Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) or Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large).
Brown eventually prevailed in an 8 to 4 vote, but only after some members suggested that his past ethical lapses should disqualify him from a leadership role.
The debate was capped by Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), who broke down as she pleaded for civility while delivering an unusually frank assessment of life in the John A. Wilson Building.
“Tomorrow, we could be in handcuffs, so I wouldn’t be so quick to say how honest and forthright we are,” Alexander said while pleading with colleagues to “stop all the backbiting.”
“I’m sick of it,” she said, trying to regain her composure. She later said, “I can say you will not see me in handcuffs.”
Earlier this year, former council member Harry Thomas Jr. was convicted of stealing $350,000 from taxpayers, and former chairman Kwame R. Brown pleaded guilty to bank fraud last week. Also, two former campaign aides to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) pleaded guilty last month in connection with an ongoing federal probe into the mayor’s 2010 campaign.
Shortly after Kwame Brown resigned last Wednesday as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Mendelson and Orange started to quietly lobby for his seat pending a special election Nov. 6. The council quickly solidified behind Mendelson, drawn by his reputation as a trustworthy colleague with 14 years’ experience on the council.
Instead of forcing a public fight for the top job, Orange instead sought the largely ceremonial post of chairman pro tempore. But Mendelson asked his colleagues to instead elect Michael Brown, noting that the chairman normally recommends the person for the post.
Orange teamed up with Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) for a public assault on Brown’s record. The two noted that Brown pleaded guilty in 1997 to misdemeanor federal campaign-finance violations after he facilitated straw donations.
They also said that Brown has struggled to keep pace with his personal debt, including failing to pay his property taxes on time in 2010. The Internal Revenue Service also filed a $50,000 lien against him for failing to pay income taxes dating to 2004.