WASHINGTON -- In a day full of personal attacks, low blows and other political theatrics, it took the tearful pleas for civility by a member of the District of Columbia Council on Wednesday to instantly change the mood of the nation's capital scandal-ridden local legislative body.
Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) began crying when she spoke, instantly bringing quiet to the cantankerous council chamber. A live feed of the proceedings was quickly pulled, but reporters in the room relayed the dramatic proceedings via Twitter.
After last week's dramatic resignation by Chairman Kwame Brown (D) amid federal bank fraud charges, Wednesday's special session was called by the acting chair, Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), to select an interim chairman. The council quickly rallied around Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), a highly respected policy wonk and self-proclaimed nitpicker who has largely avoided the various scandals that have marred the reputation of the council.
Although Mendelson's selection had been predicted since last week, the proceedings in council chambers were far from calm and routine.
Council theatrics made quite a show out of the vote for the No. 2 slot where At-Large members Vincent Orange (D) and Michael Brown (I) -- no relation to Kwame Brown -- both wanted the pro tem position. Mendelson rallied support for Michael Brown despite Orange's contention that Brown's lingering alleged ethical lapses and tax problems sends the wrong message to D.C. residents about moving toward a clean, scandal-free council.
As the Washington Business Journal reported:
"The city’s in serious trouble, credibility trouble," said Councilman Marion Barry, D-Ward 8. "We’re the laughingstock of the nation. We’re at the bottom of the barrel in terms of credibility and trust and Mr. Orange has a way of bringing us together."
As Jonetta Rose Barras wrote in an Examiner column, the elevation of Michael Brown sends the council "on an express trip from the skillet to the fire.":
Brown, after all, is the person who was at the center of the shenanigans surrounding the failed attempt to bring Internet gambling to the nation's capital. Brown also pleaded guilty in 1997 to federal campaign finance violations. According to published reports, he made illegal contributions in his own name. Then, he persuaded other people to make donations for which he reimbursed them; that's called making contributions in the name of another, which also is illegal.
Michael Brown defended himself during the proceedings:
In the end, Orange's bid for the pro tem spot was rejected and Michael Brown prevailed.
Michael Brown released a statement following the morning proceedings:
"I believe Chairman Mendelson brings the needed stability and honest leadership the city deserves during this troubling episode of governance and I am honored to work alongside him, and my colleagues, to restore the Legislature’s focus towards the needs of the people."
David Catania (I) released a statement, too, praising Mendelson's selection but noting the sour nature of the morning's rollercoaster proceedings:
At this time of upheaval and crisis for the District, where residents are seeking real unity and stability in their government, the behavior of some of my colleagues today was an embarrassment. The fact that some members made decisions on who to support in today’s vote based on their personal ambitions is a shameful abdication of their oath of office and a disgraceful disservice to the people of the District.
In a council that's been known for its interpersonal anger, distrust and ill will, Wednesday's session may have marked a new low: