For At-Large Council

Friday, September 8, 2006

WHEN PHIL Mendelson first ran in the 1998 Democratic primary for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, he was among four contenders whom we endorsed in a 10-candidate field. He eked out a 17 percent plurality in that contest. We endorsed two of his opponents in the 1998 general election but endorsed Mr. Mendelson for reelection in 2002. We said that he'd shown a tendency to make tasks look more difficult than they are but that he had established a record of credible service. We retrace this history of lukewarm support because in his quest for a third term on the council, we find ourselves unable to work up any more enthusiasm for Phil Mendelson. Unfortunately, his opponent, A. Scott Bolden, excites us even less.

Mr. Mendelson's current term on the council has been disappointing, especially his stewardship of the Judiciary Committee, of which he is chairman. His oversight of D.C. Fire and Emergency Services, the Department of Corrections and the D.C. police department has been timid, and his committee leadership indecisive. His performance on open-government legislation was a study in irresolution. He helped sabotage two committee mark-ups of that legislation (strongly supported by The Post); then reversed course and voted to report the bill to the council; and then voted to recommit the bill to committee. That's not a profile in political courage.

On the other hand, Mr. Mendelson can be credited with initiating action on campaign committee reforms, and he has a good record on civil liberties, consumer and environmental issues -- though we disagree on Klingle Road; he wants to keep it closed. He deserves praise for guiding to passage significant gay rights legislation such as the Domestic Partnership Equality Act.

Mr. Bolden's style is the opposite of Mr. Mendelson's. Gregarious and talkative, Scott Bolden would not be hard to miss on the dais. However, he and Mr. Mendelson are not that far apart on issues. A former president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and a former prosecutor in New York, Mr. Bolden has earned the support of several public-safety unions.

In some respects, however, Mr. Bolden comes across as too smooth and smart by half. Many Washingtonians were surprised to hear his voice in a campaign commercial for a New York politician in which Mr. Bolden implied that he was a New Yorker. That happened to have been around the same time his exploratory committee for the D.C. mayoral race was underway. Finding little voter interest in his mayoral quest, he switched to the battle for an at-large seat. There is also concern by some that Mr. Bolden talks out of both sides of his mouth on issues such as same-sex marriage. Those character concerns should not be treated lightly.

Democratic voters deserve a better selection. However, in the at-large council race, our choice is Phil Mendelson.

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