Editorial -- D.C.'s Mayor Gets His Attorney General

Thursday, November 20, 2008

THE D.C. Council's debate on Peter J. Nickles's confirmation as the city's attorney general revealed more about council members than about Mr. Nickles. The latter is, as we already knew and as even his fiercest critics had to concede, an eminently gifted attorney. But it's troubling that he squeaked by in such a close vote.

Seven members of the council refused to play politics with this important office. Leading this majority was Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who in casting the deciding vote showed that he would not allow any grievances with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to compromise D.C. interests by denying the mayor his choice of someone who was clearly qualified. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) likewise cast a principled vote, not allowing any bruised feelings over not being reelected to stand in the way.

It will be up to District residents to puzzle through the reasoning of those who opposed Mr. Nickles, a former top corporate lawyer with more than four decades of experience and a record of public service to the city and its most disadvantaged citizens. We had hoped that council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), as chairman of the committee handling the nomination, would put aside his differences with the mayor to ensure fair treatment of his nominee. After circulating a report recommending favorable treatment of the confirmation, Mr. Mendelson -- who has attested to Mr. Nickles's effectiveness in rewriting city gun laws -- pulled a fast one in recommending disapproval. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) has yet to come up with a coherent explanation of why she voted against Mr. Nickles. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) apparently believes that she was staking out a bold stand for the independence of the office -- an independence not mandated by D.C. law -- but she failed to document her serious charge that Mr. Nickles shows "insufficient commitment to the rule of law." In fact, it was Mr. Nickles, not Ms. Cheh, who was recently vindicated by a federal judicial ruling upholding the use of police roadblocks in the Trinidad neighborhood, a practice that Ms. Cheh had argued was unconstitutional. No one should be surprised at the flip-flop of council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who stood beside Mr. Nickles in support when his nomination was announced, or that member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), as lately seems to be his wont, followed Mr. Barry's lead. And what can one say about Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large)? He said not a word -- and then voted "present."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company