Barras: Vincent Orange: Political imperfection

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Photo - Vincent Orange
Vincent Orange
Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

Vincent B. Orange Sr. made his case for re-election at a Georgetown Business Association forum last week. The at-large D.C. Councilman's demeanor contrasted dramatically with his pre-summer-recess dais-pounding performance where he objected to the selection of Michael A. Brown as the legislature's interim chairman pro tempore.

"I was acting on what was in the best interest of the institution," Orange told me during an interview after the forum. "At that point, I believed I was the best choice."

But is he the best candidate running in the Nov. 6 general election?

"I'm not perfect," replied Orange. "But I think I'm good for the city."

In this year's Democratic primary, a bunch of voters didn't agree; most ballots were cast for Orange's opponents. Then, there were concerns about possible illegal donations to his 2011 special-election committee. Those contributions allegedly were made by campaign bundler Jeffrey E. Thompson, who has become a key figure in a federal investigation into government corruption.

"I have never been contacted by the FBI or the U.S. attorney. I haven't even received a subpoena," said Orange.

Responding last year to the public's growing mistrust of elected officials, he introduced ethics reform proposals that would allow the expulsion of legislators for certain unethical or criminal behavior, prohibit outside employment and set term limits.

"[Some] people have a sense of entitlement," Orange explained. "This should not be a long-lasting job."

He may have thought that reform agenda would shield him. But his opponents -- independents A.J. Cooper and David Grosso, Republican Mary Beatty and Ann Wilcox of the Statehood Green Party -- have consistently raised questions about Orange's ethics.

He has used an arguably impressive legislative record to blunt some of those assaults. During his first council stint -- from 1999 through 2007 -- as the Ward 5 representative, Orange successfully brought major economic development to that area. He pushed for fiscal accountability and education reform, including creation of McKinley Technology High School.

"I've been Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to education," he told the Georgetown group.

He returned to the legislature in 2011, filling the at-large seat vacated when Kwame R. Brown became chairman. (Brown resigned this year after pleading guilty to felony bank fraud.)

Since his return, Orange has pushed to provide small and local businesses greater access to government contracts: "I believe D.C. dollars should circulate in the District of Columbia." He also has spoken out about problems with the certified business enterprise program, as reported in the Washington City Paper. "If there is fraud, we should get rid of it."

At the forum, he said he would consider allowing residential neighborhoods to mimic business improvement districts. He talked of the need for immediate remedy to flooding in the Bloomingdale community, advocated having the city's community college run all government training programs and demanded better revenue projections from the District's finance chief.

His presentation garnered one endorsement -- sort of. When each candidate was asked to name two opponents for whom he or she might vote, Republican Beatty said she liked A.J. Cooper and Orange.

Fascinating.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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