D.C. Democratic Party officials on Thursday appointed Robert White to the at-large city council seat vacated by Vincent B. Orange, who resigned in August with five months left in his term to take a job leading the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
White, 34, gets his early start on the council just before it returns from its summer recess next week. Party leaders said the choice was a no-brainer since White already defeated Orange in the June Democratic primary and is expected to cruise to victory in the November general election.
In a low-key affair with little drama and discussion, White won in a 43-2 vote of the party activists who make up the D.C. Democratic State Committee.
“We have upheld the vote that was cast in the primary,” said council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who chairs the Democratic Party.
Anita Shelton, one of the few dissenters, objected to not being able to present herself as a candidate. The longtime Ward 1 activist had pitched herself as a placeholder so White could focus on campaigning.
Previous votes on appointing interim at-large council members featured multiple candidates and heated party meetings, but Orange’s resignation was the first to happen after a primary election. Party leaders said their obligation was to back the will of Democratic voters.
“I will not let the stain of a process contaminate you because I believe in you and I believe in your integrity,” said Shelton, shaking White’s hand after the committee vote.
In an interview before the vote, White said an early appointment to the council would help him gain valuable experience and seniority before starting a full term.
“Every new member of the council, no matter how much policy or legislative experience you have, will have a learning curve,” said White, a former aide to Attorney General Karl A. Racine and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). “With the opportunity to overcome that curve, I would be even more ready with a stronger legislative package in January.”
The council has big items on its agenda this fall.
One of its top priorities will be voting on a proposal to mandate one of the most generous paid family leave bills in the country. Details — such as the source of funding and length of leave time — are still under negotiation.
White said he would push for the most “robust” and realistic program but he declined to discuss details of what that would look like. He pointed to his personal experience with family leave as a new father of a 2-month-old daughter and husband of a federal government employee with few family leave benefits.
White also declined to take a position on the Fair Scheduling Act to require major employers to provide more predictable work schedules to hourly workers. White said he was still studying it.
As a council member, White said he would prioritize education, affordable housing and workforce development issues, and would take on the troubled job training program as one of his first acts of oversight.
At times, he may also find himself at odds with his predecessor, who already frowned on the prospect of White taking his old seat.
Orange’s new job as president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce places him at the helm of an organization fighting labor-friendly legislation he had championed as a council member, including the Fair Scheduling Act.
Originally, Orange planned to simultaneously lead the Chamber and serve on the council as chair of the committee overseeing businesses and regulations. But he resigned after a maelstrom of criticism from fellow council members and others that such dual roles would amount to a flagrant conflict of interest, even though it’s legal for council members to hold second jobs.
Orange has said he would refrain from lobbying his council colleagues, and ethics officials are finishing an opinion outlining restrictions on his political activities after leaving office.
Orange also has more than $80,000 in debt from his unsuccessful reelection bid, according a late-filed campaign finance report. He did not respond to requests for comment.