Orange’s ethics reform effort defeated; Bowser to offer bill

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser on Tuesday promised to deliver a comprehensive ethics reform bill by the end of the year, positioning herself as a sobering voice on a hot-button issue that at times has descended into political theater.

Ms. Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and chairwoman of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, made the pledge after she and other colleagues defeated by a 12-1 vote an emergency proposal to create an Ethics and Accountability Task Force in light of recent ethical missteps on the parts of some council members.

The task force was the idea of Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat who has presented himself as a leader on ethics reform, promoting term limits and full-time status for council members while restricting their outside employment as part of his “new deal for the District of Columbia.”

Ms. Bowser sent out a memo on Monday that, although it does not mention Mr. Orange by name, rejects “knee-jerk solutions or political pandering.”

On Tuesday, she urged council members to resist temptations to politicize the issue, despite April primary elections in which she and Mr. Orange, among others, will be on the ballot.

“It is incumbent upon us to separate ourselves from the campaign trail just for half a second,” Ms. Bowser said during the council’s legislative session. “I, like he, will be on the ballot in April. But it is not my job to campaign from this dais.”

Ms. Bowser received a boost in clout this summer when she was assigned to lead the government operations committee that must grapple with ethical woes hovering over city hall.

Previously the head of the council’s Committee on LIbraries and Recreation, she was elected to the council after Adrian M. Fenty vacated the Ward 4 seat to become mayor in 2007. Mayor Vincent C. Gray defeated Mr. Fenty — who had supported Ms. Bowser’s rise — in a divisive election last year.

Ms. Bowser has offered some of her strongest comments to date in quashing Mr. Orange’s bill.

“I recognize the urgency we’re dealing with,” she said. “But I also recognize the need to follow our process — not my process, our process.”

Council members lined up in her defense on Monday, arguing Mr. Orange’s task force is “counter-productive” and puts them in the awkward position of publicly striking down a pro-ethics measure as they rely on Ms. Bowser’s committee to vet various ethics-reform proposals.

Ultimately, Mr. Orange’s vote was the only one in support of his emergency bill. Mr. Orange, who formerly held a council seat representing Ward 5, said the effort fulfilled a pledge he made on the campaign trail ahead of the special election that returned him to the body in the spring.

He said he supports Ms. Bowser’s efforts to assimilate the bills under consideration, but his proposed task force would be an independent body that is not subject to influence from elected officials.

“We’re afraid to have someone else look at us as an organization and make recommendations,” he said. “It’s fine to vote it down. That’s fine. But don’t create excuses as to why you’re doing this, that this is going to stop our process.”

He said the task force would be able to form recommendations on a parallel track with Ms. Bowser’s consolidation of bills, arguing “two heads are better than one.”

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