There will likely be drama in tomorrow’s vote to choose the interim leadership of the D.C. Council in the wake of Kwame R. Brown’s resignation as chairman, but it’s not the drama many were anticipating.
According to discussions with several council members, Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) has secured the support of a decisive majority of his colleagues. Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who had been seeking support against Mendelson, has given up his quest for the interim chairmanship and is now seeking to be named interim chairman pro tempore.
In recent days, the consensus ticket floated around the council consisted of Mendelson and Michael Brown (I-At Large) as “pro tem.” But Orange, faced with insurmountable support for Mendelson and seeing weakness in Brown’s past tax issues and 1997 guilty plea to a campaign finance charge, is trying to peel support from Brown.
Mendelson and Orange met this afternoon for the first time since Kwame Brown’s resignation, according to two council members.
In a curious news release this afternoon, Orange said he “cannot in good conscience” support the Mendelson/Brown ticket as proposed by acting chairman Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). He did not mention Michael Brown by name but pointed to a recent Post column by Colbert I. King noting Brown’s past issues.
“Is the Council ready to clean up this mess?” asked Orange, who is calling for separate votes on the interim chairman and chairman pro tempore.
Orange has been “furiously lobbying” colleagues this afternoon, with the support of Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), said one council member.
The “pro tem” slot comes with few formal powers, but it would put Brown or Orange in line to succeed Mendelson as interim chairman should he leave office for any reason. There has been some speculation that presumptive interim chair Mendelson could be elevated to mayor should Vincent C. Gray (D) have to leave office.
UPDATE, 6:20 P.M.: Orange says in an interview: “In terms of the institution, I am willing to move off my position [of seeking the interim chairmanship] and work with Phil to bring unity down here at the council and to start repairing the damage that’s been done.”
He again declined to criticize Michael Brown by name, but said, “We need two members who are not under investigation, two members who have not been investigated. ... We need to come up with a resolution that’s going to protect the institution from unnecessary hits.”
That resolution, Orange suggests, is to pick the two eligible Democrats — Mendelson and himself — going forward.
But for Orange to have any shot at winning the pro tempore slot, Mendelson would have to back off his support for Brown.
That doesn’t appear to be happening, and Orange pressured Mendelson: “It’s not up to me anymore. It’s up to the person who wants to be acting chairman. He needs to take a leadership position to close ranks. It really comes down to acting chair making his first personnel decision.”
The choice, he says, is between a unanimous vote for Mendelson as acting chair or “dissension in the ranks.”
Asked if unanimity was important in an interview earlier today, Mendelson said, “It’s always best when the council does things by consensus.”