Vincent Orange is best qualified to face the city's challenges as D.C. council chair.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

CLEARLY OVERSHADOWED by the heated mayoral contest, the race for chairman of the D.C. Council is nonetheless of prime importance. Managing the city's finances and continuing school reforms are but two of the challenges to be faced in the next four years. The council will need a strong leader who understands this diverse city and its government, is able to build consensus from a dozen warring agendas and has the sense to know what battles are worth fighting.

Of the two major candidates in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, at-large council member Kwame R. Brown and former council member Vincent Orange, we believe Mr. Orange is best able to match the legacy of intelligent leadership best typified by former council chairman Linda W. Cropp. (Also on the ballot is Dorothy Douglas.)

Having left the council in 2006 to pursue an unsuccessful bid for mayor, Mr. Orange, a former Pepco executive, entered the race with less visibility than that of the perceived favorite, Mr. Brown. But his up-from-poverty background, experience as an attorney and certified public accountant, and accomplishments on the council suggest he has the right skills to lead the council. As a two-term representative for Ward 5, Mr. Orange's

single-minded determination helped bring much-needed development to his community. His oversight of the inspector general's office transformed that agency. Most important, Mr. Orange was not afraid to take principled stands -- in support of the baseball stadium or mayoral control of schools -- even when they were unpopular.

By contrast, it is often hard to know where Mr. Brown stands on issues, the best example being his vote of "present" on the confirmation of Peter J. Nickles as attorney general. He professes to favor the reforms being implemented by Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee but, at best, gives her lukewarm public support. Most of the members of the council have endorsed him even as some privately question his capabilities. No doubt Mr. Brown's promise not to change the council's committee structure -- as opposed to Mr. Orange's sensible observation that there are too many committees with members playing mini-mayors -- helped him win the support of his colleagues.

We endorsed Mr. Brown when he ran for reelection to the council; he is a likable politician with an unquestioned commitment to the city. His advocacy for job creation and workforce training is particularly noteworthy. Yet it is not clear that he has the maturity or judgment to lead the 13-member council. That conclusion is strengthened by the troubling recent disclosures about his personal finances. It's hard to accept Mr. Brown's boast that he is the best steward for taxpayers' money when he has run up personal debts of more than $700,000. His failure to clear up his financial problems before seeking higher office only raises questions about his judgment.

Whoever the next chairman is, it's critical that there be a healthier relationship between executive and legislature than has existed between the current holders of the offices. Vincent Orange would have to guard against what some see as a tendency to be unbending, but he is the better qualified candidate for this job.


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