ACCORDING TO D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D), there is no law or rule that prevents him from serving as president of the city’s chamber of commerce while simultaneously finishing his at-large council term. He is right about the law but wrong in thinking there isn’t a problem with his clear conflict of interest. That Mr. Orange can’t distinguish between what is legal and what is right suggests voters were correct not to reelect him. His continued service on the council is to the detriment of D.C. residents.
Mr. Orange, who lost his bid for reelection in the Democratic primary in June, announced last week that he is taking a new job heading up the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. Because there is no prohibition against outside employment for council members, he said he will do both jobs for the remaining five months of his term. He said he has consulted with the District’s ethics commission and the council’s attorney and will be diligent to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s.” And in the wake of the understandable uproar over his plans, Mr. Orange on Wednesday offered to give up chairmanship of the council’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
“I will be completely transparent,” he told us, but then, in the next breath, he flatly refused to disclose how much the chamber will pay him in addition to his almost $135,000 council salary. He has tried to liken his situation to that of other council members with outside jobs, failing to appreciate that working for a law firm with discrete clients or teaching college law is different from being the president of an organization whose reason for being is influencing public policy in favor of business interests. That Mr. Orange once led an effort to ban second jobs for council members — arguing that it’s hard for residents “to accept that outside employment does not carry the potential for conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, corruption and divided loyalties” — makes his current stance all the more hypocritical.
His actions make us regret our past support for him. We are equally disappointed that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) hasn’t shown more leadership in trying to uphold the integrity of the council. Instead of offering a legalistic defense of Mr. Orange, Mr. Mendelson should be looking out for the interests of D.C. residents and urging Mr. Orange to resign immediately.
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