D.C. City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon has proposed a council reorganization plan that would revive the council's disbanded Committee on Education while increasing the powers of all the committee chairmen, including Dixon as chair of the committee of the whole.
Dixon's proposed reorganization plan would also elevate the council's most junior current member, Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), a political protege of Dixon, to the vacated chairmanship of the powerful Housing and Economic Development Committee.
Dixon is proposing Jarvis to head the committee instead of two more senior at-large Democrats, John Ray and Betty Ann Kane, both of whom are seen as potential challengers to Dixon in the 1982 elections for council chairman or possibly major.
Under Dixon's proposal, the council's other five committee chairmen would keep their current committee assignments. Incoming council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) would not be assigned a committee chairmanship, and Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6) would remain as council chairman pro tempore, a largely ceremonial position.
Any council reorganization must be approved by the full council and several council members said privately that they doubt Dixon's proposal now has enough votes to be ratified. Ray and Kane have already begun trying to line up support for their own reorganization plan, which would split the housing and economic development committee into two separate committees -- with Kane chairing the economic development panel and Ray taking housing.
According to the Kane-Ray plan, the council could then create a separate committee, possibly on labor relations, for Jarvis.
Council members covet committee chairmanships as a source of power and a way to increase the size of their staff. Chairmanships give a council member control over a panel responsible for a vital area of city life and government, and often bring along their own constituency, which would help a member with ambition for higher office to cultivate political allies in the community.
Kane called Dixon's plan "blatantly political and very silly, to. The majority of the council would like to see a system under which at-large Democrats with seniority are given due consideration."
Dixon defended his reorganization plan yesterday as "a sound one and one supported by a majority of this council." Dixon said that, despite claims from the council members being left out in his plan, the council has never before been reorganized solely on members' seniority.
Dixon proposed his reorganization plan at a council meeting Tuesday at the International Inn at Thomas Circle.Sources who attended the closed-door session said Dixon began the meeting by outlining his proposal, which included naming Jarvis to chair housing and economic development and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At-Large) as chairman of a separate education committee; giving committee chairmen the power to withdraw measures at council legislative sessions; and putting confirmation hearings for the mayor's appointments under individual committees instead of all confirmation hearings being conducted by Dixon's committee of the whole.
The idea for the education committee comes amid mounting public criticism and concern about the state of the city's school system and the announcement Wednesday by School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed that he is resigning.
But it is the plan to make Jarvis chair of the Housing and Economic Development Committee that may be the only bitterly contested component of Dixon's proposed reorganization. In his 1979 reorganization, Dixon merged the old housing committee with the committee on employment and economic development. Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7), who is retiring from politics, has headed the committee.
Sources at Tuesday's meeting said several of the members present voiced misgivings about giving Jarvis the important committee chairmanship over Kane and Ray, which violates the council's unspoken reverence for seniority. Kane was elected in November 1978 and Ray was appointed to his at-large seat by the Democratic State Committee in January 1979. Jarvis was elected May 1, 1979, in a special election to replace Dixon as the Ward 4 representative.
"Arrington sees John as a threat and he sees Betty as a threat and he's trying to do anything that doesn't let them get any more publicity," one council member said privately. "He's also trying to build Charlene up."
Several political observers have said that Dixon and other Democratic leaders are grooming Jarvis to challenge Kane for the at-large seat in 1982.