From this day forward, much of the city’s business rests on the shoulders of M&M – Phil Mendelson, the D.C. Council chairman (D), and Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney.
Public attention, of course, will focus on the mayor’s race. Council member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), the Democratic Party’s nominee, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) and possibly other contenders will go at it all summer and into the fall. The consequences of the mayoral election, however, won’t be felt until next year when the winner takes office and assembles a new administration. Any significant proposals by the mayoral candidates will be prospective.
Not so with the actions of Mendelson and Machen. The impact of what they do — or fail to do — will be felt this year.
Mendelson faces the toughest job of his life. He has to keep a politically fractured government functioning through 2014. Consider what he has on his hands.
Challenge No. 1 is a defeated mayor hotly pursued by the federal government. Vincent C. Gray has sent to Mendelson and the council a 2015 budget that has as much chance of making it through unchanged as a toad has under a steamroller.
The job of a mayor trying to govern with his successor waiting in the wings is tough enough. The possibility of Gray remaining in office, should the feds indict him, before a new mayor is inaugurated in January is equally dismaying. Either way, Gray’s role as a leader is compromised. Mendelson will have to step up his game.
It won’t be easy. Consider challenge No. 2. Those sitting on the council dais for the remainder of the year include lame-duck members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who came in a distant third in the mayor’s race, and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who was thrashed by political novice Brianne Nadeau, as well as soundly defeated mayoral candidates Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent Orange (D-At Large)
Mendelson has to hope that Wells and Graham don’t go “figmo” on him. (Army slang: “Forget it, got my orders,” meaning I’m a short-timer at this post and will be out of here soon.) Keeping Wells and Graham constructively engaged for the next nine months could be a struggle.
The same holds true for Evans and Orange. How will they play out the year?
Challenge No. 3: the campaign agendas of opposing mayoral candidates Bowser and Catania. Unless Mendelson exercises a firm hand and keeps the panel focused on city business, each council session could resemble a Bowser-Catania mayoral forum.
For the record, I’ve known Catania since 1997 when he ran for and won an at-large council seat in a special election. I had a hand in writing the Post endorsement of him in that race as well as in the Post endorsements of him in 1998, 2002 and 2006. Catania is the council’s hardest-working member. Probably the smartest — and feistiest, too.
My connection to Bowser goes back even further. Her mother and I were classmates at Francis Junior High School in the 1950s. As with Catania, I’ve followed Bowser ever since she won a council seat, in a 2007 special election. She’s well-grounded, astute and, as I have learned, knows more than she lets on.
A Bowser-Catania race — involving the best we have to offer — will be good for the city. But the council’s legislative session shouldn’t become the venue for waging a mayoral campaign.
Shaping a budget, overseeing a sprawling bureaucracy, keeping the fiscal house in order — that’s business that falls to the council. The council chairman has to make that happen.
On a good day, chairing the D.C. Council is akin to herding cats. The next nine months pose an even greater test, given the number of political casualties that Mendelson has sitting with him in the chamber.
Which gets us to the other M.
Unless Machen intends to immediately skip town and never darken the District’s doors again, 2014 will be a decisive year for him.
Four of Machen’s convicted D.C. felons — and Vince Gray’s friends — Michael Brown, Vernon Hawkins, Jeanne Clarke Harris and Jeffrey E. Thompson will be sentenced this year or continue to cooperate in the corruption investigation.
In addition, the federal trial of restaurant owner Tony Cheng gets underway this summer. Cheng and his son have pleaded not guilty to charges that they tried to bribe a city official. The official was wearing a wire. Reportedly, some interesting views — and names — were caught on the tape. Stay tuned for Machen’s take on that.
Gray took a body blow in the primary election, but the biggest event of his year may be yet to come. What lies ahead? Indictment, plea agreement, resignation, all or none of the above? The answer to Gray’s fate is in Machen’s hands.
There you have it. Mendelson and Machen, an exceptional duo directing the District’s affairs.
Then again, this is an exceptional city.
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