Ethics issue looms over D.C. campaigns

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Voters in the District will decide Tuesday whether to reshape the D.C. Council in election contests that serve as a referendum on the makeup of a body that has faced a steady trickle of ethical problems in the past two years.

Tuesday’s election will mark the end of a heated battle for two at-large seats and less competitive races for chairman and ward seats and the District’s delegate to Congress.

The ballot also has three proposed amendments to the D.C. Charter that reflect the ethical cloud hanging over city government. The first one asks voters whether the council, by a vote of 5/6 of the members, should be able to expel a fellow member for a “gross failure” of the office’s standards of conduct. The next two questions ask whether a council member or the mayor should be “ineligible to remain in office and ineligible to ever hold the office again” if he or she is convicted of a felony while in office.

Council chairman’s race

The man chosen by his colleagues to lead the council after former Chairman Kwame R. Brown resigned amid scandal, Democrat Phil Mendelson, is expected to easily overcome sole challenger Calvin Gurley to retain the reins at the John A. Wilson Building. Mr. Mendelson was chosen as chairman in June, after Brown resigned and pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

Mr. Mendelson’s likely victory would free up his at-large seat on the council, setting up a special election in the spring. Observers say candidates who fall short in the current at-large race could be in a good position to vie for the seat.

David Grosso, a relatively unknown independent from Brookland who built up his name recognition by starting his campaign for an at-large seat a year ago, for one, doesn’t want to hear that.

“It’s the one hard-and-fast rule on my campaign, that you’re not allowed to talk about anything but this race,” Mr. Grosso said in a phone interview Friday.

Brown isn’t the only council member to resign in disgrace and be replaced by a special election. In January, Harry Thomas Jr. resigned from his Ward 5 seat for stealing $350,000 in public funds intended for youth sports programs. Democrat Kenyan McDuffie handily won a May special election to replace him.

At-large contest

Council member Michael A. Brown, an independent, is considered most at risk of losing his seat to an upstart challenger such as Mr. Grosso in one of the at-large council races.

As of their most-recent campaign finance filings, Mr. Brown had little more than $7,000 cash on hand to use in the final week of the campaign. Mr. Grosso had roughly double that amount.

However, Mr. Brown — first elected to the council in 2008 — can rely on momentum as both an incumbent and a familiar name to voters who remember his late father, Ron Brown, who served in President Clinton’s Cabinet.

Mr. Brown has faced a number of unflattering developments during the campaign. He announced that more than $100,000 had been stolen from his campaign, supposedly by a trusted aide. He has also been dogged by questions about his personal finances because of tax liens and The Washington Post reported on his poor driving record.

Mr. Grosso and Republican nominee Mary Brooks Beatty have hit away at Mr. Brown’s troubles, but the incumbent says voters care about his record on affordable housing and workforce development.

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