WE HAVEN’T HESITATED to criticize the D.C. Council when it’s gone behind closed doors to do the public’s business, so Wednesday’s debate about who should lead the group was refreshing. No question the discussion was raw — some even said ugly — but the open airing of disagreement was a reassuring sign of lawmakers showing they had nothing to hide.
Struggling to right itself after two of its members, including former chairman Kwame R. Brown, were forced to resign, the council selected Phil Mendelson (D-At large) to serve as chairman until a special election is held Nov. 6. It also elevated Michael A. Brown (I-At large) to the largely ceremonial chair pro tempore post after a contentious debate that centered on whether Mr. Brown — who has had problems with personal debt, failed to pay his District and federal taxes on time and pleaded guilty to a campaign finance misdemeanor while a federal lobbyist in 1997 — is the best person to restore ethics to the council. Mr. Brown’s response: “All of my issues have been extremely well-vetted by the voters,” and they voted for him anyway.
“Wow. This is the most scorched earth council debate I have witnessed in past 3 years,” Post reporter Tim Craig tweeted. “Could you imagine watching this DC Council debate if you are new to the city?” D.C. State Board of Education member Patrick Mara tweeted. At one point, council member David A. Catania (I-At large) decried the debate saying, “The less the population sees of this, the better.”
We disagree. “Today,” as Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said, “there was complete transparency and complete debate.” The questions about Mr. Brown are good ones, and the public was entitled to hear the discussion. It’s commendable that the council didn’t, as has been its wont, hammer out an agreement in a back room and then present it to the public with fake unanimity. One council member criticizing another may have caused some discomfort, but if there had been more willingness to speak out and less group-think, some of the problems of the past might have been averted.