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D.C. Council poised to approve Mendelson as chairman

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D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson bested Chairman Kwame R. Brown during budget talks last summer, when he led a behind-the-scenes effort to raise taxes on the District's top earners despite the chairman's staunch opposition to the idea.

Now he's poised to take over Brown's post as the city's second-most powerful politician, after the latter resigned last Wednesday and pleaded guilty to bank fraud and a campaign finance violation two days later.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, circulated a resolution Tuesday that names Mr. Mendelson as acting chairman and council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, as chairman pro tem, the council's second in command.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the resolution in a vote Wednesday morning, barring a last-minute maneuver by council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, who lost the 2010 chairman's race to Brown and is still interested in the job.

Ms. Cheh said Mr. Mendelson appears to have the votes to become acting chairman with Michael Brown as his No. 2.

But Mr. Orange said he is setting aside his ambitions for acting chairman and is hoping to become the acting chairman pro tem in lieu of Mr. Brown.

”I'm willing to move off my position for acting chair,” said Mr. Orange, adding that he met with Mr. Mendelson and several other members on Tuesday.

He noted that both he and Mr. Mendelson are Democrats and that neither of them is under formal investigation. His new position should prompt debate from the dais on whether to accept Ms. Cheh's resolution as it is crafted, or split it up and force members to decide between Mr. Orange and Mr. Brown for the pro tem position.

”It's up to Phil now, and we'll see how things turn out,” Mr. Orange said, noting Mr. Mendelson probably would like to see unanimous support among the council in his bid for acting chairman.

Earlier on Tuesday,Ms. Cheh said she does not know what Mr. Orange has up his sleeve.

"He's nothing if not persistent," she said. "He's just making a lot of maneuvers."

She said the decision to name Mr. Mendelson and Mr. Brown in the resolution was the result of "things that just started to fall together" after the chairman resigned.

"An informal consensus started to form," she said.

Last year, Mr. Mendelson rallied the majority in a testy 7-6 vote from the council dais to create the new tax bracket for top earners and to make sure holders of out-of-state bonds were not taxed retroactively. His ability to wrangle seven votes helped the council reach a compromise on lingering squabbles over the bonds tax and higher income taxes for high-earners - a pair of proposals that vexed constituents in wealthier parts of the District.

The episode offered credence to the "balance" - as council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, put it Monday - that Mr. Mendelson is expected to bring to the legislative body.

Mr. Mendelson became active in city issues during the 1970s and served as an advisory neighborhood commission member before he was elected to the council in 1998.

Colleagues say he has the right temperament and experience to lead the council in the wake of Brown's resignation, as the council winds down business ahead of its summer recess from mid-July to mid-September.

"Even though [Mr. Mendelson] has the potential to move big pieces of legislation," Ms. Cheh said, "I think what I would want, and other members would want, is someone to carry us from here to November and do the work that's keyed up for us to deal with."

City voters hit the polls on Nov. 6 - the same day as the general election for president and several council seats - to select a candidate to finish out Brown's term through 2014.

Both Mr. Mendelson and Mr. Orange have shown an interest in running for the chairman position in the special election.

Mr. Orange is also up for re-election to his at-large seat. On Monday, the D.C. Board of Ethics declared that candidates may run for both a council seat and the chairman's position because they are "separate elections."

Any candidate who runs for both offices must create separate campaign committees and cannot mingle their funds, according to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

A candidate may accept the maximum contribution for each office that is sought. For instance, a candidate such as Mr. Orange could accept $1,000 for at-large member and $1,500 for council chairman from the same donor.

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