Wynn Decides to Leave Congress Months Before His Term Expires

Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.)
Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) (Bloomberg News)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 28, 2008

Eight-term U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who was defeated last month in the Democratic primary, said yesterday he will resign from Congress in June to take a job at a prominent Washington law firm with an active lobbying practice.

His decision to leave before his term ends in January prompted some residents of his district to worry that they will be left without representation for months unless Maryland holds a potentially costly special election to replace him.

Several congressional ethics experts also called it highly unusual to announce a resignation months before it takes effect, a situation that might force Wynn to recuse himself from votes.

Wynn, who for 15 years has represented the 4th Congressional District, which includes most of Prince George's County and part of Montgomery County, said in a statement that it is "time to move into another phase of my life." He indicated he will become a partner in the law firm Dickstein Shapiro. He lost in the primary by more than 20 percentage points to Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's nonprofit executive.

Wynn would not comment beyond his statement, which did not give a reason for the timing of his resignation.

Ethics experts and watchdog groups characterized Wynn's move as potentially rife with conflicts of interest because he could be confronted with issues related to his new employer's clients while still in office.

"Typically once somebody announces their departure, they start packing their bags," said Kenneth A. Gross, an ethics expert at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. "It's hard to legislate when people are already thinking of you in the private sector."

Under an ethics law enacted last year, lawmakers are required to notify the House Ethics Committee soon after they begin to negotiate for a job outside Congress. A spokesman for the committee declined to comment on whether Wynn had alerted the committee.

Wynn suggested that he was leaving early in part to give Edwards the chance to join Congress early through a special election, allowing her to build seniority and get off to a "fast start in serving the citizens of our community."

However, a special election is not guaranteed. Under Maryland law, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) can choose whether to hold a special primary and general election or leave the seat empty until January, when the winner of November's general election will be sworn in. Edwards will face Republican Peter James in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Asked about Wynn's departure at a news conference yesterday, O'Malley said he will consider the options.

"We haven't had time to run the constitutional traps on that one," O'Malley said.

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