A D.C. City Council committee set the stageyesterday for a possible floor fight over rent control by sending the full council an unamended bill that would extend provisions of the current rent law for four years.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who sponsored the bill, immediately acknowledged that he is one vote short of the seven he needs to pass his bill in the 13-member council.
"I've still only got six votes, and that's why I would like to have achieved a compromise before the committee meeting," said Clarke. "I think the existing law is fair, and I'm trying at this point to get a seventh. I don't know what it is going to take."
But council member John Ray (D-At Large), who was forced to drop his own rent control bill, which called for phasing out controls, said he would not support Clarke's bill and that changing the bill was the key to unlocking the seventh vote.
The council's Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee met briefly and voted out the Clarke bill 2-1.
Committee members Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) and Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) voted for the bill, and Ray voted against it. John Wilson (D-Ward 2) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) were absent.
The council is expected to vote on the bill next month. The current law expires April 30.
Clarke said that he and the five members who supported his bill are trying not to accept any amendments that would weaken the bill -- including those that would lift rent controls from any units that are now covered or change the methods for increasing rents to allow for higher levels.
Some tenants considered the committee vote a victory because it signaled the defeat of Ray's controversial proposal to lift controls on apartments as they become vacant.
About 60 rent control supporters gathered in the hallway of the District Building. They quizzed Clarke on whether he was considering any compromise amendments that would weaken his bill.
Later, they demanded to see Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), saying that she had promised to be the seventh vote for the Clarke bill. Schwartz was not in the building.
"If they have to compromise, let them do it on the council floor so we can remember when the election comes up," said Kathy Lipscomb, a political representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, which supported the Clarke bill. "We're not about to let people vote to weaken rent control."