D.C. Dems prepare to pick at-large council member

|
Photo - Anita Bonds shares a laugh with then-mayoral candidate Vincent Gray while visiting a voting station in NE in 2010. (Andrew Harnik/Examiner)
Anita Bonds shares a laugh with then-mayoral candidate Vincent Gray while visiting a voting station in NE in 2010. (Andrew Harnik/Examiner)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Even if turnout is 100 percent, the D.C. Council's next at-large member will take office having received fewer than 80 votes.

Confronted with a vacancy after now-Council Chairman Phil Mendelson ascended to the legislative body's top job amid Kwame Brown's resignation, Democratic insiders will gather Monday to pick a successor, who will serve through an April 23 special election.

Anita Bonds, chairwoman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, is widely expected to defeat John Capozzi and Doug Sloan for the post.

But some party activists have sharply criticized the process of filling at-large vacancies, a legacy of the Home Rule Act of 1973 that allows the local Democratic apparatus to pick the interim lawmaker.

"It's exceedingly exclusionary," said Phil Pannell, a Ward 8 activist. "Because it is such an insiders' game, that is why there are only three candidates."

Other Democrats, though, have stood by the system as fair, especially because members of the Democratic committee are elected by the public and not named behind closed doors.

"I think the system works. Politics is messy. [This is] an open process, and people who are voting have been elected or appointed to do this," said James Bubar, a committee member who won his seat in a citywide vote. "It's an acceptable process."

At-large Councilman David Catania, an independent, didn't outright condemn the Democrats' selection methods, but he suggested the party could adopt a different process.

"I don't think there's anything prohibiting the Democratic Party in this case from broadening the approach it is taking," Catania said. "The state committee could have opted for a different approach."

But Catania also acknowledged that absent a citywide vote, representation was better than a vacancy.

"The people need to have representation, even [if] imperfect, for a period of time," Catania said.

Pannell argued that not having a member would be a better -- and cheaper -- option.

"The process is such that it would be better if the state committee simply abdicated its role in this, and we'd only have four months before the election," he said. "We'd actually save the taxpayers money by not having to set up this office."

Bubar also said the system could be improved, especially since city law does not call for an interim member when there is a vacancy in a ward-level council seat.

"The two processes need to be reconciled," Bubar said. "That's a huge inconsistency."

The winner of Monday night's election at Catholic University will not serve the balance of Mendelson's at-large term, due to expire in 2015, but will hold the seat until the city certifies the victor of a special election in April.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment