D.C.'s backroom election

Sunday, January 9, 2011; 8:05 PM

IF THERE WERE any question about what's wrong with letting political insiders - and not the voters - select people for office, it was all but obliterated with last week's unbecoming process to select a temporary at-large member of the D.C. Council. Our judgment about the inappropriateness of the process has nothing to do with the candidate who was selected to fill the seat vacated by Kwame R. Brown's election as council chairman. Sekou Biddle has been a standout member of the State Board of Education and shows much promise, but neither he nor the District was well served by a process that usurped the right of voters to choose their representatives.

Mr. Biddle bested Vincent Orange, a former council member with strong credentials of his own, in voting by the D.C. Democratic State Committee. As The Post's Tim Craig reported, three votes were taken in a chaotic evening that saw furious caucusing, reporters shut out of a closed-door meeting and secret votes that apparently broke the party's own rules. Mr. Biddle won 40 to 31 after Mr. Brown and two other incumbent council members, Harry Thomas (Ward 5) and Marion Barry (Ward 8), worked the room on his behalf. Mr. Biddle, who was sworn into office Friday, will have to run in a special election, set for April 26, to fill out the rest of Mr. Brown's term. In addition to Mr. Orange, he will face a field of candidates likely to include school board member Patrick Mara and others.

Picking a council member is too important to be relegated to back rooms. With the special election scheduled so soon, it seems unnecessary, not to mention unfair to those candidates who don't get the leg up of immediate incumbency. The Home Rule Charter rather bizarrely provides for interim appointments of at-large members but not ward seats, even though, as some have argued, there is more urgency in not having a gap in ward representation.

At-large vacancies are a rare occurrence, and so there's the temptation to overlook last week's problems. We would urge the council to rethink how vacancies are filled and seek legislative remedies to ensure a better process.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company