- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

The new chairman of the D.C. City Council, Vincent C. Gray, wants to revamp the legislative body next year by focusing more on education and housing issues and by giving all 11 council members their own committee chairmanships.

“My overarching goal was to make sure I fulfilled the promises I talked about,” said Mr. Gray, a Democrat who represented Ward 7 in the council’s last term. “I wanted to make sure our committee structure really reflected our priorities.”

The proposal to give each council member, including three newcomers, a chairmanship next month is a departure from predecessor Linda W. Cropp’s method of awarding the posts based on seniority.

“This was an opportunity to say we’ll give a big load to a few people and have everybody else learning, or to say ‘You’ve arrived,’ ” Mr. Gray said. “I have no doubt they will rise to the occasion.”

Mr. Gray also wants to put education issues under the authority of the Committee of the Whole. As usual, he would be the committee chairman, and all council members, by definition, would be on the committee as well. The council must approve the proposed changes at a Jan. 2 meeting.

The proposal to make education a priority follows Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty’s likely attempt to place the District’s struggling school system under the authority of his office. The plan would require the council’s approval, and Mr. Gray said the new structure would allow every member to participate in decisions.

“It sends a message about how important we consider this,” said Mr. Gray, who noted that eight council members asked to sit on the education committee. “Frankly, it also doesn’t put me in the position to have to choose some members that will be involved and some who won’t.”

Education now falls under the purview of the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation, with incoming Ward 5 Democrat Harry “Tommy” Thomas Jr. in charge of that committee.

“I think Chairman Gray did an excellent job of setting aside a lot of competing interests,” said Mr. Thomas, who also will oversee parks. “The process was as fair as it could be.”

Mr. Thomas had hoped for more of a role in the Committee on Economic Development, but Mr. Gray gave the chairmanship to Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Gray’s proposed reorganization also includes a new committee — the Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs — to focus specifically on housing issues. Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, would be chairman of the committee.

Other proposed changes include: Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, replacing Vincent B. Orange Sr. as chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Government Operations. Mr. Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, lost to Mr. Thomas in the November election.

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, will shift from leading the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to being chairman of the Committee of Public Works and the Environment, Mrs. Schwartz’s former committee. That committee will now include oversight of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

Mr. Graham also was reappointed to the Metro board.

“I have transportation, the environment, public works, motor vehicles,” Mr. Graham said. “I couldn’t be any happier. It gives me some real interesting work to do.”

Newly elected Ward 6 Democrat Tommy Wells, a former social worker and a school board member, would become chairman of the Committee on Human Services, taking over Mr. Fenty’s former post.

Newcomer Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, will replace Mr. Graham as the leader of the newly named Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee.

“It wasn’t my first choice, but I’m going to do the best I can with it,” said Mrs. Cheh, who had hoped to be chairwoman of the Committee on Government Operations. “It requires a balancing act because you have to make sure businesses and activities are regulated in the public interest. But you want to make sure people are able to get things done.”

Other council members will retain their current committee chairmanships. David A. Catania, at-large independent, will lead the Committee on Health; Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, will continue to lead the Finance and Revenue Committee, and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, will be the chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

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