The D.C. Council yesterday granted broad new powers to its chairman, Arrington Dixon, giving him life-and-death control over all legislation unless a majority of his colleagues overrides him.
The council also approved the permanent appointment of Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), a Dixon ally, as head of the housing and economic development committee.
Dixon's new powers will allow him to set the agenda for council meetings. Control over the agenda carries with it the power to bottle up or simply ignore legislation even after it has moved through committee hearings. If the council wants to place an item on the agenda over the chairman's opposition, it can do so only with a majority vote.
After yesterday's debate, Dixon appeared to be a clear winner, scoring a major political coup by corraling a majority of council votes for his reorganization plan. As for Jarvis, she got to keep the committee she has been chairing on a temporary basis since January.
The losers were John Ray and Betty Ann Kane, the council's two at-large Democrats, who both had wanted Jarvis' committee chairmanship. Council members generally covet committee chairmanships, which give them a subject specialty, enable them to hold hearings and determine the agenda for their committees, and expand their staffs. Both Kane and Ray are potential candidates for mayor or council chairman in 1982, and the housing and economic development committee post could have meant increased visibility during the next two years.
Jarvis also has been mentioned frequently as a candidate for higher office next year. The chairmanship of a powerful committee no doubt will give her increased visibility, especially since the committee this year will be handling the city's comprehensive plan and overseeing implementation of city housing legislation from rent control to condominium conversion restrictions.
Yesterday's orderly session was in marked contrast to the podium-pounding debate over committee chairmanships during the council's opening session last month.
Dixon, aided by the absence of one of his most outspoken challengers, Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), was able to put together majorities to keep his other council opponents from altering his reorganization plan.
Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), another potential challenger to Dixon in 1982, tried to remove a part of the plan giving Dixon the power to hold up legislation coming before the council. No one supported Clarke.