Who Will Chair Economic Development?
Almost D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown is currently meeting with some councilmembers to discuss committee assignments. Though we'll probably know who is going where soon enough, why not engage in some wild speculation while we wait?
As you may have heard, Brown surprised a lot of people (and disappointed at least one councilmember) this morning by announcing he'll be continuing in the footsteps of Almost Mayor Vince Gray and keeping education as the subject of the Committee of the Whole. That means that Brown's own committee, economic development, is up for grabs.
At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown has expressed interest, though the thinking in parts of the Wilson Building is that K. Brown would not want to give a potential opponent in an upcoming mayoral election such a plum assignment. (The counter argument to that idea is that chairing the economic development committee isn't that much of a shot in the arm politically, and it's not like Michael Brown doesn't already know the developers worth knowing when it comes to raising money.)
So if it's not M. Brown, then who? Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry needs a committee, but LL doesn't see him getting economic development.
In hushed tones, LL heard from a couple of people that Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. might be the lucky one getting economic development. Thomas, who currently heads the Committee on Parks, Recreation and Libraries, probably wouldn't mind the upgrade. But he does get the gig, K. Brown better hope the Team Thomas saga doesn't escalate into something really embarrassing. Just today, Thomas pushed for a $625,000 payment to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro LLC mixed-use development. If that name rings a bell, it's because that's one of the developers the Post editorial page has reported donated to the councilmember's sports youth non-profit, which has been described by political opponents as a slush fund. Thomas says he's done nothing wrong.
Councilmember David Catania lashed out at Thomas today, though not by name, following the hearing. "Today, District taxpayers were subjected to a grab bag of budget gimmicks and giveaways that have prompted me to cast the first vote against a District budget in my 13 years on the Council,” Catania said in a statement issued by his office. "What I witnessed today was a total embarrassment to the notion of responsible budgeting. It was very disheartening.”
Catania's office sent out the e-mail with the document name set as "Tone: Unapologetic." Here's what it says on the Rhode Island money:
"The payment to Rhode Island Avenue Metro, LLC, constituted a payout on top of the $8.2 million in public assistance for a development project on Rhode Island Avenue, NE. Catania said that he believed it set a dangerous precedent to backfill developers’ coffers when publicly supported development projects incur higher costs. He further noted that District taxpayers received nothing—no ownership interest and no additional public benefit—their payment to the developer."
LL's asked for a response from Thomas' office and will update as needed.