Mendelson Moves to Redefine Attorney General's Role

By David Nakamura and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 20, 2007

The day after D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer announced her resignation, District Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) introduced a bill to his colleagues to put some teeth into the job and toughen qualifications for applicants.

Singer, one of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's (D) first appointees, drew much attention at the time because she had not practiced law while working at a nonprofit organization and she did not have a license from the D.C. Bar. She applied for the license soon after accepting the job.

Mendelson, who said he was surprised by Singer's departure, pointed out that most state attorneys general are elected.

Sources close to Singer and to the mayor's office said that she was frustrated by the overwhelming involvement of Fenty's general counsel, Peter Nickles, in areas considered her office's responsibilities. Nickles is a highly regarded corporate lawyer with close ties to the mayor's family. He was named acting attorney general.

Mendelson, along with co-sponsors Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) and David A. Catania (I-At Large), wrote a bill with numerous new regulations.

Under the bill, applicants would need at least seven years' experience in the District; a vetting process for the position would be required; the term would be six years; and there would be protections against removal. These qualifications are similar to the ones the council approved for the inspector general's job in 2003.

"The recent resignation of the attorney general has highlighted concerns over the independence and integrity of the position," Mendelson said in a written statement. "This legislation will address the need for a strong role for the attorney general and providing protections against certain outside influences.

"The position of Attorney General is critical to the well-being and safety of the residents of the District of Columbia," Mendelson wrote. "Among states, the District is in the minority when it comes to structural protections for the position of Attorney General. . . . It's about time that this position is elevated."

Architect to Head Institute

As one half of the local architectural firm Devrouax & Purnell, Marshall Purnell has been putting his architectural stamp on the District's skyline for years.

Now, his influence is going national.

Purnell was inaugurated Saturday as the 84th president of the American Institute of Architects, a 150-year-old organization with 80,000 members across the country. Purnell, 57, made history: He's the first African American to hold the position.

Purnell's credentials are noteworthy. Along with partner Paul Devrouax, Purnell has helped design that Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Pepco headquarters and the new Nationals' baseball stadium.

Devrouax and Purnell, who joined forces in 1978, have said they faced obstacles as a small, black-owned company. Often, they were hired as subcontractors but, at least in the early days, were not entrusted as the lead architects. That changed when they were hired to design the Pepco building at Ninth and G streets NW, a project that drew raves from critics and has become their signature work.

During his inaugural address, Purnell called on the institute to pay more attention to diversity.

"We have to take a serious look at who we are as well as the rising generations of young women and men in this country who would and could and should consider architecture as a profession. We must be more representative of the society we seek to serve," he said. "We must actively, creatively and with an unshakable commitment to succeed, pursue this diverse representation. We must pursue it not simply as a moral, but a professional imperative."

Farewell to the District

During his year-long tenure as spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, Erik Linden probably put out more news releases than anyone outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Now, local scribes might go hurting for their street repair, bridge work and alley closing updates because Linden has announced that he is leaving city government tomorrow for a public relations job with NRG Inc., an energy company in Princeton, N.J.

After five years with the District, including a position as speech writer for former Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Linden said he was ready for a change. He will move north with his wife, Jill, and son, Luke, and start his new gig next month.

Of his time in D.C., Linden, a Wilson High graduate, said: "I got to know my hometown better than I ever expected."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company