D.C. Council Chairman-Elect John A. Wilson (D) plans to push for more power for his office this morning as part of a proposal to dramatically restructure the way the council is organized and the way it conducts business.
Perhaps the most significant proposal is for Wilson to assume personal control of the agenda at the council's legislative sessions. The agenda is essentially set now by the chairmen of various council committees, who decide when to place legislation before the entire council.
By taking control of the agenda, Wilson would gain leverage with Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon. Wilson could single-handedly stifle legislation favored by the new mayor or extract concessions in return for favorable treatment.
Wilson, who takes office on Wednesday, is scheduled to unveil his recommendations on restructuring this morning at the council's biannual administrative meeting. The recommendations must be ratified by a majority of the 13-member body.
Wilson said yesterday that he may not have the votes to gain the new powers he is seeking, but he expressed hope that the body would accept most of his ideas. He said the proposals would make the council more efficient and more influential.
"I'm trying to make the council into a legislature, rather than a student council," Wilson said in an interview yesterday. "The point is to reorganize the council to be more effective and productive."
Wilson also said he would like to reduce the number of council meetings from two a month to one, as well as adopt limits on the amount of time the council uses in debate.
Yet another proposal Wilson plans to put before the council is to split up the Committee on Housing and Economic Development, currently headed by Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), the two-time mayoral candidate and one of the most powerful members of the council.
Jarvis has used the committee as a vehicle to wield influence over a wide variety of important D.C. issues, from banking and economic development to public housing and tenant subsidies. Some council members believe that there is too much power and responsibility concentrated in the committee.
Under Wilson's plan, a new housing committee would be created, as well as a new banking committee. Though Wilson declined to discuss specific personnel moves, council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) is reportedly in line to head housing, with newly elected council member Linda Cropp (D-At Large) ready to take over at banking.
That would leave Jarvis in charge of a committee on economic development, according to council sources, making her less of a threat to Wilson's power base.
Stripping Jarvis of some of her power also has been a goal of organized labor, which has often been at odds with her on such issues as unemployment compensation and workers' compensation.
Council members said privately yesterday that they believe Wilson has the votes to accomplish the split.
One political factor working in his favor is that under his plan, several new committees would be created -- including a labor committee -- and each of the 13 council members would for the first time have a committee to head.
Jarvis also has been politically weakened, council sources say, by controversy over her powerful role in city banking matters. The issue has arisen in recent weeks with the demise of Latin Investment Corp., an unregulated firm whose collapse has left hundreds of Hispanic residents wondering whether they will recover their savings.
Jarvis and Wilson met on Wednesday to discuss his proposals for the council and her committee. Jarvis declined yesterday to discuss the details of that meeting, but she said she supported the thrust of what Wilson is proposing to do.
She said the council was more likely to "restructure" her committee, rather than split it up. "You add one responsibility and you give up others -- that is what most likely is going to happen," she said.
Wilson said his reorganization proposal is not aimed at Jarvis, but at giving council members more manageable amounts of work.
At their meeting today, council members also are expected to choose replacements for two important committee heads who are leaving the council.
Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) is expected to become head of the Government Operations Committee, now headed by Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), sources said.
They also said that Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) is expected to replace Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) as chairman of the Public Works Committee.
William Lightfoot (I-At Large) is in line to take over Public Services, which has authority over the Recreation Department. Smith now heads Public Services.