SIMMONS: Meet the new boss - same as the old boss

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It’s deja vu all over again — almost.

I bumped into Kwame Brown on Saturday night on U Street, and we chatted for several minutes about the mayor’s unreasonable midyear spending request before he became a bit testy, huffed at me and walked off without hearing my exclamation point — “Watch your step, Mr. Chairman.”

Perhaps I deserved to be blessed out for conducting a gut check of the D.C. Council chairman, who has vowed that the legislative branch under his watch will be no rubber stamp for the executive branch, whose duty is limited to executing laws laid down by the legislature and governing the agencies under his authority.

It’s just that with the threat of a voter recall no longer hanging over neither his head nor that of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, I wanted to know whether Mr. Brown would stand his ground this week when lawmakers took up the mayor’s contentious spending plan — and indeed he did.

As city hall reporter Tom Howell Jr. noted, Mr. Gray and lawmakers have been sparring over the mayor’s “supplemental budget proposal, which is meant to tackle funding needs that arise during the fiscal year from unforeseen circumstances or agency overspending.”

The council voted Tuesday to accept only two of the mayor’s requests.

One would grant $7 million for charter school coffers, while the other would add $8 million to the unemployment kitty, reasonable allotments considering staggering adult jobless rates and the fact that the mayor blamed the council for holding up quarterly payments to charter schools.

But the fault line drawn by the Gray administration was a bit like the Obama administration blaming Congress for allowing Secret Service agents to hook up with hookers in Colombia or allowing the General Services Administration to spend $823,000 on a 2010 conference in Las Vegas.

Speaking of johns, pimps and prostitutes, it’s certainly scandalous for the mayor to propose and lawmakers to consider reimbursing city workers who were furloughed last year.

Is this the same Vince Gray who ran Adrian M. Fenty out of city hall in 2010?

• As chairman of the council, Mr. Gray blasted Mr. Fenty for failing to submit in a timely manner the documents necessary to support his spending request. In an April 8, 2010, letter to Mr. Fenty, Mr. Gray even pointed out that the mayor knew better because of “your time on the Council.”

• In another jab at the Fenty administration, Mr. Gray said he was astonished that schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee claimed that a budget shortfall forced her to lay off hundreds of school personnel, but months later discovered a sudden windfall of $34 million to spend on schools. “I’d be about ready to put my hands around somebody’s throat,” Mr. Gray said.

Please fast-forward: Organized labor pushes Mr. Gray into the winners circle, and he furloughs city workers to stave off deficit spending. Officials later tally up revenues and find a windfall for traditional schools, but the council balks. The mayor again proposes spending additional money on traditional schools, but the council balks, agreeing instead to give money to charters and the unemployed because budget documents were late.

Mr. Gray seems to have forgotten the basics of the balance of power, as well. Indeed, while Congress routinely sends smokelike signals to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, they are but a mirage because the U.S. Constitution spells out the real deal — the legislative branch writes the laws, the executive branch must implement them.

Similarly, the District’s home rule charter grants overwhelming powers and authority to the D.C. Council.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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