By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010; B04
The race for the D.C. Council's top job is taking shape, with former member Vincent Orange set to announce his Democratic primary challenge to at-large member Kwame R. Brown on Wednesday.
Orange and Brown will compete to replace D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who is taking on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the primary. The chairman's spot is essentially that of a leader among equals, presiding over and trying to corral a dozen other council members who often have competing agendas. The position is particularly important at a time when the District is struggling to close an estimated $550 million budget gap.
Gray has won kudos from his colleagues for being a mature, collaborative presence, and council members have privately expressed concerns about the leadership void his mayoral candidacy creates.
In preparation for his bid, Orange has lined up support from former council members who represented his rival's home turf of Ward 7 -- Kevin P. Chavous, who will serve as campaign chairman, in addition to John Ray and H.R. Crawford.
"With Gray leaving, we need someone who can build consensus and who is respected for his financial acumen and leadership skill," said Chavous, who served on the council with Orange.
Even before Orange's scheduled announcement, all signs suggested he would run. He was tracking the plans of the longest-serving council member, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who decided not to run after initially saying he would get in the race. Orange left his job last month at Pepco, where he was a vice president for government relations.
Orange, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006, has hired Sean Metcalf, a longtime aide to Evans, as campaign manager and Linda Greene, former chief of staff to council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), as spokeswoman.
In an interview Tuesday, Brown presented himself as a populist whose campaign would be run "by the people," and he framed the contest in terms of old vs. new. Brown, 39, has lined up support from fellow council members, including Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), and said he would be an "independent, strong voice for the government."
"This is not the council of Crawford, Chavous or Ray. This is a council that's moving forward," he said. "People voted for change."
Brown, who lives in Ward 7, east of the Anacostia River, unseated longtime incumbent Harold Brazil in 2004. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in 2008 and has built an extensive network of support throughout the city.
As chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, Brown has often clashed with the Fenty administration over issues such as tax incentives for businesses and the development of the Southwest waterfront.
Orange, 53, described his campaign team as "not too old, not too young. It's just right. It's going to bring leadership, maturity and accountability," instead of what he called a "shotgun approach," pointing to budget proposals such as taxing sodas to help balance the budget.