D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said Friday he will resign in the face of mounting criticism about his decision to accept a job leading the D.C. Chamber of Commerce while serving on the legislative body.
Orange said he will leave office effective Aug. 15 — the day he is to start at the chamber.
“The law allows me to do this; however, in all the criticism and all the other discussions I’ve been involved in, I believe it would be good to just have a good, clean break on August 15,” Orange said in an interview. “It’s just good for me, being the new president and CEO of the chamber, for me to totally concentrate on the chamber and being the voice for business.”
His resignation brings to an early end the career of a longtime — and controversial — fixture in District politics.
Orange, who lost his reelection bid in the Democratic primary in June, raised eyebrows last week when he announced that he would lead the business organization while serving on the D.C. Council until his term expired in January 2017.
Despite the fact that Orange would have continued to be paid by taxpayers for five months while also representing the chamber, he argued earlier in the week that the problematic period was really only “two and a half months” because the council is on a summer break that ends in September.
He resisted repeated calls for his resignation from the council and suggested that he was being held to a different standard, noting that council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), works as a law professor at George Washington University and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), works for the government and regulatory affairs division of a law firm that lobbies the council.
“I don’t see a conflict, and if this is a conflict, it will be dissolved in a few short months,” said Orange, who is paid $135,000 annually as a council member.
Orange had tried to tamp down growing criticism by seeking an opinion from ethics officials. He also said he would surrender his chairmanship of the committee that regulates business and labor issues.
But apparently it wasn’t enough.
Angry constituents, multiple newspaper editorial boards, advocates and colleagues on the council said Orange’s two roles were in conflict and called on him to resign.
Although it is legal for council members to hold outside jobs, the council’s code of conduct says members “shall not ask for or accept, either directly or through someone else, any gift, gratuity, favor, loan, entertainment, or anything of value from a person who has or is seeking a contract with the District of Columbia; is regulated by the District; or has any interest that may be affected by the Councilmember’s performance of official duties.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who chairs the D.C. Democratic Party, told Orange in recent days that his resignation from the council would end the controversy.
Mendelson and Orange met for an hour Friday to discuss the resignation.
Carl L. Hairston, who heads the chamber’s board of directors, said Orange’s decision was “for the best.”
“No one needs a distraction, whether it’s the D.C. government, whether it’s the chamber,” Hairston said.
He said the chamber thought that Orange could serve the dual roles because other council members have held outside jobs and that an ethics opinion would help the lawmaker steer clear of illegal conflicts. He said the chamber didn’t hire Orange because he was a sitting lawmaker.
“Obviously, there was going to be some benefit because of his legislative experience. . . . But more importantly before he was a legislator, he was an accountant, an attorney and a CFO for a nonprofit organization,” Hairston said.
In the fall, the D.C. Council is poised to take up major legislation that affects the business community, including the nation’s most ambitious program for paid family sick leave and a controversial mandate that would require major employers to provide more-predictable work schedules to hourly workers.
News of a pending resignation was welcomed by Orange’s critics.
“The notion that he could hold both positions at the same time was so chock-full of conflict, and there was no remedy for it except pick one or the other,” Cheh said.
With Orange’s resignation, the D.C. Democratic Party can choose an interim replacement, and the Board of Elections has an option of holding a special election.
Bonds says the party will most likely elevate Robert White, who beat Orange in the Democratic primary and is heavily favored to win in the November general election. In a text message, White said Orange “made the right decision for the city”. He said he would push to be appointed to the council as quickly as possible.
Orange has sought office 11 times since 1990, representing Ward 5 between 1999 and 2007 and reclaiming an at-large seat in 2011.
In his latest campaign, his opponents attacked him as loose on ethics for soliciting donations from city contractors and being the first council member disciplined by the newly created ethics board for trying to block health inspectors from shutting down a rat-infested produce shop operated by a campaign donor.
When Orange planned to stay on the council, he said his work at the chamber would be focused on expanding membership and increasing revenue, and that lobbying would be handled by an outside party.