D.C. Council makes some head-scratching decisions

July 11, 2013

YOU CAN exhale. The D.C. Council has adjourned for the summer.

“An embarrassment” was the phrase used at one point by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) during the council’s final marathon session Wednesday. Mr. Mendelson was referring to the last-minute move to delay election of the District’s attorney general without so much as a by-your-leave to voters who overwhelmingly endorsed such an election in a 2010 referendum. But embarrassment is an apt description of a council increasingly willing to jump on the bandwagon of what sounds good, never mind the law, the reality or the consequences

Foremost, of course, was the final approval of what’s disingenuously being called the “living wage” bill but is really just anti-Wal-Mart legislation that exempts just about every other employer. The 8 to 5 vote mandating a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour for large retailers that meet certain conditions was foreordained, given the council’s earlier approval and strong backing from organized labor. Wal-Mart’s announcement that it would curtail and possibly pull out completely from proposed developments — six proposed stores about which the company, city officials and the public spent years negotiating — had no impact.

Instead, there were Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), insisting that the District no longer needs new retail; Anita Bonds (D-At Large), making the ludicrous implication that the bill would lift two-thirds of the city’s working-poor families out of poverty; Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), bragging that he’s the person businesses should see if they want to locate in the District; and Mr. Mendelson, saying that it’s okay for the city to change the rules anytime it wants. We can’t imagine any potential business — not to mention those already here — having any confidence they will get a fair deal or an even playing field in Washington.

The council members who voted against the bill included Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who bucked pressure from influential unions even as they are running for mayor. The five votes would be enough to sustain a veto that we hope will be forthcoming from Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

Unfortunately, it’s not the only questionable action by the council that should be revisited. The peremptory move — with no public hearing or notice — to delay next year’s election of the attorney general by four years mocks the public’s will. (We say that having vigorously opposed the move to make the office elected rather than, as is the current case, appointed by the mayor.) Similarly, the council gave tentative approval to a measure that would contravene federal law by issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants with no acknowledgment of their different status. So if you are worried about the possibility of your D.C. license no longer getting you past airport screeners, you might want to get in touch with Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) or her colleagues.

Let’s hope the summer rest does council members some good.

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