'Historical Moment' Cited at Swearing-In of City Leaders

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 3, 2009

Six members of the D.C. Council -- including Michael A. Brown, whose candidacy was challenged in court -- were sworn in yesterday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, with officials pledging to lead a city poised for change as a new Democratic administration heads to the White House.

Several legislators referenced President-elect Barack Obama, the nation's first African American poised for the Oval Office, as they spoke about their goals for the District.

"We must not ignore the aligning of the stars with President Obama and the new Congress; we have to make it happen this time," D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said, referring to the long-fought battle for District voting rights. Obama has pledged his support for the issue. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) also spoke during the swearing-in program, which drew several hundred people.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said that District lawmakers might soon get "budget autonomy" and a vote in Congress after his colleagues were sworn in. All but one of the council members sworn in yesterday were incumbents: Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). Michael Brown (I-At Large) was yesterday's newcomer.

D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D) and shadow Rep. Mike Panetta (D) were also sworn in, as were nearly all of the city's 269 Advisory Neighborhood Commission members and the nine members of the State Board of Education: Dottie Love Wade (Ward 1), Mary Lord (Ward 2), Laura McGiffert Slover ( Ward 3), Sekou Biddle (Ward 4), Mark Jones (Ward 5), Lisa Raymond (Ward 6), Dorothy Douglas (Ward 7), William Lockridge (Ward 8) and Ted Trabue (At Large). The board, which became a fully elected body, will select a president and vice president Jan. 28th.

"I will not let you down in the four years ahead of me," said Evans, an 18-year incumbent on the council. Barry spoke of "this historical moment" in the life of the city and the country and praised a former female gang leader who is now in college. Kwame Brown challenged his colleagues to "put aside any political bickering to achieve real change."

Alexander said, "When we have a problem in one neighborhood, we all have a problem."

Bowser talked about holding people and herself more accountable. "I expect our leaders to be fiscally responsible in the tough times we face," she said. "I expect every resident, every family and every neighborhood to accept personal responsibility to build D.C. into a great city."

But the loudest applause was for Michael Brown, son of former Commerce secretary Ron Brown, who had been the first black chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Michael Brown was elected as an at-large council member after two failed campaigns -- one for mayor and one for the council -- and changing political parties. The lifelong Democrat became an independent for his latest race. The GOP had challenged the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics before the D.C. Court of Appeals on the grounds that Brown had become an independent solely to seek office.

His switch, the party said, violated the city's law that requires one of the four at-large council seats to go to a minority party. The District is overwhelmingly Democratic.

The court rejected the GOP's petition.

Brown focused most of his remarks on painting himself as an assertive advocate.

"For those who think there will be union busting, there will not be any more with me on the council," he said, adding that "a new tone" needed to be established in the city when it comes to dealing with seniors, young people at risk and the business community.

Political observers see Brown playing an adversarial role to Fenty.

But Fenty said in an interview yesterday: "I couldn't be more excited . . . with the addition of Michael Brown and returning members. I look forward to great things."

Staff writer Bill Turque contributed to this report.

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