Fenty nominates former U.S. secretary of veterans affairs for elections board

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty nominated former Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. on Thursday to be the new chairman of the city's elections board -- averting a potential crisis weeks before the Sept. 14 primary and appearing to defuse a fight with the D.C. Council over the critical appointment.

West, a former U.S. secretary of veteran affairs who most recently co-led the Pentagon inquiry into the Fort Hood shootings that left 13 people dead, would replace Errol Arthur, who resigned, effective Aug. 2, to become a Superior Court magistrate. With little time before the primary, Arthur's resignation would leave the three-member Board of Elections and Ethics without a quorum because of an already existing vacancy.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), Fenty's chief opponent in the Democratic primary, will have to convene a special council session to approve the emergency nomination of West.

"West certainly has an outstanding background and reputation as the former Secretary of the Army and of Veterans Affairs and has served admirably in other roles," Gray said in a statement. "I plan to act quickly on the nomination, recognizing time is of the essence."

The D.C. Council and Fenty have often clashed over the mayor's choices for boards and commissions, with council members frequently questioning the experience of nominees. In the past, Fenty has dipped into a pool of his running buddies, fraternity brothers and his wife's friends to fill seats on boards.

Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) scrambled earlier this week to jointly recommend a dozen nominees to Fenty. But Fenty said Wednesday he already had some names under consideration.

West practiced law at Covington & Burling, the same firm as city Attorney General Peter Nickles. West testified on behalf of Nickles at his confirmation hearing in 2008.

"The mayor proposed him. I said, 'That's a hell of an idea,' " Nickles said, adding that he was not involved in West's selection. "Here's a guy above reproach. No one could argue against him. Togo West is a great American."

Cheh, whose committee oversees the election board, said, "It certainly seems like it works for me. We might resolve this."

Catania said he was pleased with Fenty's choice.

"Mr. West has had a distinguished career to this country, and I think he would make a fine addition to the Board of Elections," Catania said, adding that he expects the council will move swiftly to confirm West. "The mayor has sent over a person who, I believe, is qualified, who I intend to support. My hope is, we can move this nomination as quickly as possible."

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