D.C. Council ends Vincent Gray era and the year with a flourish

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 10:15 PM

The D.C. Council adjourned for the year Tuesday, capping Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray's term as chairman and ending a period that saw passage of some of the most ambitious legislation since the city gained home rule.

After approving a flurry of bills - including a measure that would require homeless families to demonstrate their ties to the District before receiving shelter - the council went on recess until next month.

During the 18th session since home rule took effect in 1973, the council legalized same-sex marriage and medical marijuana, rewrote gun-control laws, imposed a 5-cent tax on plastic bags to advance the cleanup of the Anacostia River, and adopted standards for healthier school lunches.

After the session ended, Gray ceremoniously passed the gavel to his successor, D.C. Council Chairman-elect Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large). Brown, on the behalf of the council, gave Gray an Apple iPad and wished him well as the next mayor.

"I will put this legislative body up against any," said Gray, who received an extended standing ovation. "I look forward to working with all of you in this next life."

The just-concluded council session will be known as one in which members appeared to find legislative confidence in the aftermath of the financial control board. The council embraced an activist agenda and exerted more control over city government, increasing oversight of the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

"The legislature has strengthened," said council member Phil Mendelson (D- At Large). "Our response during the Fenty administration was to pass laws and impose new requirements on budgeting, financial planning and policy analysis."

Gray, who became emotional in an interview, said he is most proud of the council's high ratings in recent public opinion polls and a collaborative spirit that led to significant pieces of legislation during his four years as council chairman, including mayoral control of schools and the expansion of pre-kindergarten.

Looking forward, many observers expect Brown, 40, will have a management style different from that of the 68-year-old Gray. But with the council gaining only one new member - a vacancy to be filled temporarily by the D.C. Democratic State Committee - few expect its approach to change dramatically.

Some observers say the council's efforts to distinguish itself may have contributed to what some members described as unprecedented hostility between the legislative and executive branches. The council initiated a spate of investigations into Fenty's administration, which to date have failed to turn up conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.

"It was just a very contentious relationship . . . and I think it will overshadow a lot of the good things being done," council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said.

The council was tested by several ethical controversies, including an investigation into whether council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) misused earmarks and questions about whether council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) properly accounted for money he raised for his nonprofit group Team Thomas.

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