Loose Lips

Councilmembers Scrap Over Barry’s Committee and Their Own

The members of the D.C Council are back today from summer break, which means that contentious Council breakfasts are back, too. This morning, the only thing steamier than the eggs was the spat over what will become of Marion Barry's committee.

The ad hoc committee set up to punish Barry for accepting $6,800 from city contractors recommended unanimously yesterday that Barry should lose his chairmanship of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs. With Barry absent from the breakfast, Vincent Orange kicked off the awkward discussion of what to do.

He brought up a Washington Post report that Barry's committee, if taken away, would go to David Grosso or Anita Bonds, neither of whom chair committees now. Grosso and Bonds were also part of the ad hoc committee, which prompted Orange to say that Bonds and Grosso voting on whether to censure Barry would create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Grosso countered that, by that logic, he and Bonds would be the only people who ever got to vote on committee assignments, since it didn't benefit them.

Orange's concern also inspired a torrent of committee grievances to resurface, from Jim Graham's loss of alcohol oversight after his own censure to Muriel Bowser's 2007 loss of her spot on the economic development committee in a reshuffle. Tommy Wells asked Orange why he didn't say anything in 2011, when then-Chairman Kwame Brown punished Wells by taking away his beloved transportation committee.

"I think there's precedent that you did not speak to at that time," Wells told Orange. "I'm not sure why you're bringing it up now."

Orange insisted that he was only expressing the concerns of "numerous" constituents worried about who would chair Barry's committee. "One person in particular says, 'Where is the legal authority in this particular issue for taking away the committee?'" Orange said. "A constituent?" replied an incredulous Yvette Alexander, who was also on the ad hoc committee, as if she couldn't quite believe a District voter would call up Orange to complain about the move.

The Council is set to vote on whether to censure Barry later this afternoon. The decision on whether to take Barry's committee—for the second time—will be left to Chairman Phil Mendelson, who claimed at the breakfast that he had only given the issue "preliminary" thought.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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