The new D.C. Council that begins work in less than two weeks could bring shifts in priorities as well as greater oversight of the troubled D.C. Department of Health, if broad changes proposed by Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) are approved.
More that half of the council's nine committees could change hands under Cropp's proposal, although three newly elected council members -- former mayor Marion Barry (Ward 8), Kwame R. Brown (At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (Ward 7) -- would not be given chairmanships. As a consolation, Cropp proposed naming Barry as an alternate on the regional board overseeing Metro and gave the other newcomers committee assignments they requested, according to members.
All 13 members of the new council met behind closed doors Tuesday evening to discuss the politically sensitive issue of chairmanships. Cropp's spokesman, Mark F. Johnson, said the chairman declined to release the new lineup or provide additional information.
During the meeting, the three new members -- all Democrats -- complained that they would be shut out from chairing committees while Republican Carol Schwartz (At Large) and Independent David A. Catania (At Large) would still be chairmen, according to several participants.
"The tragedy of it is that non-party people are getting chairmanships instead of Democrats," Barry said Tuesday evening. "Check around the country, and you can't find anywhere this craziness."
Gray said that he was pleased with his committee assignments but that it was unfortunate that no council members from east of the Anacostia River would chair a panel for at least two years.
If the plan is approved after the new council is sworn in on Jan. 2, Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) would chair the education committee. It is now led by Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who was defeated by Gray in the Democratic primary. Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) would take over Economic Development, now headed by council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large), who lost to Brown. And Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) would take hold of the Human Services Committee under Cropp's plan, replacing Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), who lost to Barry.
"Chairing a committee allows you to move laws and money and influence decisions in a way that you just can't if you don't chair a committee,'' Fenty said.
But Fenty's new panel would not include oversight of the Health Department, which would come under the purview of a new Health Committee, chaired by Catania.
Catania and Fenty said yesterday that separating out the Health Department would help spread the workload and allow better oversight of health-related issues.
The shift in committee leadership set off other changes. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) is slated to take over the Judiciary Committee from Patterson, and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) would head the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee.
Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) would continue to head the council's Finance and Revenue Committee; Schwartz would continue to chair the Public Works and Environment Committee; and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) would continue as chairman of the Government Operations Committee. Orange's committee would be bolstered by adding components of the Public Services Committee, which would be abolished under Cropp's plan.
After their meeting, members new and old went from office to office in the John A. Wilson Building, trying to choose new quarters. They looked like home buyers going from one open house to the next.
There is little sentimentality in politics. In the offices of defeated council members, their replacements stepped around packed boxes filled with mementos as they mentally measured room sizes and checked out the views.