The D.C. Council appears poised to cast a final vote Tuesday delaying the premier election of the city’s attorney general for four years, but lawmakers are facing citizen opposition from a prominent lawyer and former council candidate.
Paul Zukerberg, a criminal defense lawyer known for his work on behalf of accused marijuana offenders, filed suit against the council and the city elections board Monday claiming any delay would violate the District charter — which was duly amended through a 2010 ballot question to provide for the election of the city’s top lawyer.
“It shows a tremendous disrespect for the voters,” Zukerberg said Monday evening. “A simple vote of the council can’t change a charter amendment. You have to follow it.”
The council voted in July by an 8-to-5 margin to postpone the election to 2018, arguing that an ongoing debate over the structure and responsibilities of the office, as well as a lack of declared candidates, made proceeding with the election unwise.
The vote irked Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who supported the charter amendment and has argues any delay would overturn the voters’ will. But it did not appear Monday that Mendelson had gathered enough votes to reverse course. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a proponent of the delay, said he was confident there were still eight votes in favor of delay, while Mendelson said he had “not looked carefully at the numbers.”
There has been some outside lobbying trying to keep the measure on the 2014 ballot. The D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice sent an alert to supporters on Friday citing a “growing sentiment among Councilmembers that the election should take place next year.” But one member targeted by the group, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), said she planned to endorse the delay Tuesday — while also pursuing an effort to have the attorney general election converted into a nonpartisan race, allowing a vote as soon as November 2014.
That course, however, has been opposed by the council in the past and would require Congress to take action to amend the charter in relatively short order, which is far from a sure thing.
Zukerberg, who ran unsuccessfully for an at-large council seat earlier this year but says he has no plans to run for attorney general, said the council is being disingenuous in calling their move a mere delay.
“That’s the argument of every totalitarian government: ‘We’re delaying the elections; we’re not going to cancel them,'” he said, adding that a delay would undermine city leaders’ case for greater voting rights and autonomy from the federal government: “We lose all credibility with Congress and the president when we turn around and don’t respect the rights of our own voters.”