Phil Mendelson selected as D.C. Council leader

Phil Mendelson selected as D.C. Council leader

By Tim Craig, Wednesday, June 13, 11:03 AM, Washington Post

D.C. Council members selected Phil Mendelson on Wednesday to be interim chairman, opting for a low-key replacement to Kwame R. Brown, who resigned last week before pleading guilty to bank fraud.

Mendelson, 59, becomes only the second white chairman under the Home Rule that established the 13-member council and an elected mayor. As interim chairman, the Democrat will set the council agenda and try to manage what can often be an unruly group whose close friendships have become increasingly rare.

Mendelson’s role takes on an even greater importance amid the continued federal investigation into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign. Over the past month, two former Gray campaign staffers have plead guilty and pledged to cooperate as investigators continue their examination of how the mayor spent and raised money during his successful campaign against then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

But Mendelson serves as interim chairman only until November, when voters will select a permanent replacement to fill out the remainder of Brown’s term. Mendelson and numerous other officials from outside and inside the government, including several council members, are expected to compete in the Nov. 6 special election.

If Gray were to leave and Mendelson became chairman, Mendelson would become the District’s first white mayor under Home Rule.

Council members engaged in a fierce debate Wednesday over the election of president pro-tempore, a largely ceremonial role but the second-highest ranking position on the council. They selected Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) to serve as interim president pro-tempore.

Under council succession plans, only Mendelson, Council member Michael A. Brown and the other two at-large members — David Catania (I) and Vincent B. Orange (D) — were eligible to become the interim chairman.

Neither Michael Brown nor Catania expressed interest in the job. Both men hold second, six-figure-salary jobs. District laws prevent the chairman from holding outside employment.

After Kwame Brown stepped down, Orange tried to persuade council members to select him over Mendelson for the position. But a solid council majority indicated in recent days they preferred Mendelson’s deliberative, non-combative style to help the body recover after Brown’s resignation and that of former council member Harry Thomas Jr., a Democrat who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $350,000 from city taxpayers.

Mendelson grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, but moved to the District after attending American University.

Mendelson, who lives in Takoma, got his start in District politics as a community activist in Northwest in the late 1970s. He later went on to work for former council chairman David A. Clark in the 1980s.

A self-described “nitpicker,” Mendelson has a reputation for being one of the council’s most socially progressive members, taking a leading role in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009 as well as maintain stringent gun-control laws.

But Mendelson has been criticized for not taking a more progressive view of criminal sentencing for drug offenders and other nonviolent offenders.

When Fenty was in office from 2007 to 2011, Mendelson was one the former mayor’s fiercest critics. He was one of only two council members who voted against Fenty’s takeover of city schools in 2007.

As chairman, Mendelson also oversees the Committee of the Whole, which is made up of all council members and has oversight over public schools.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

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