A key D.C. Council committee Monday tried to block the appointment of Peter J. Nickles as the city’s permanent attorney general, setting up a showdown that could test Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s influence on council members two years into his first term.
“Mr. Nickles’ tenure as acting attorney general is replete with actions and statements that show he regards his primary responsibility to be to the mayor,” stated a report on Mr. Nickles’ appointment from the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has oversight of the Attorney General’s Office. “The energies of this office should not be spent pursuing a partisan agenda.”
Committee members voted 3-2 Monday morning in support of a resolution disapproving Mr. Nickles’ confirmation as attorney general, with committee Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat; Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat; and Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat voting for the measure.
The move creates a battle for the Fenty administration, which has sparred previously with council members, including over Mr. Fenty’s taking over D.C. public schools and the amount of information included in his financial proposals.
The full 13-member council is expected to consider Mr. Nickles’ nomination Tuesday and must vote to disapprove the nomination to prevent Mr. Nickles’ appointment to the position.
“Right now, I don’t know there are seven votes to pass him,”said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who voted against the resolution along with Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat. “I hope there are, but I don’t know there are.”
Mr. Nickles, a longtime friend of the Fenty family, was the mayor’s general counsel until being named acting attorney general in January.
In the 19-page report, the committee said the Attorney General’s Office has seen some improvements under Mr. Nickles in areas such as taking action against slumlords, enforcing consumer-protection laws and updating city regulations.
However, the report also cites several situations in which the committee says Mr. Nickles did not follow proper processes and accuses him of making Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, his primary client - and leaving “the role of the people’s chief law enforcement officer vacant.”
It is critical of Mr. Nickles’ involvement and actions in the termination of some city employees.
Mr. Mendelson - who amended the initial legislation confirming Mr. Nickles to say that members voting for the bill disapprove of the appointment - also said Mr. Nickles has shown “questionable judgment” through such moves as firing the lead attorney on the D.C. gun-ban case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The document also cites former Attorney General Linda Singer leaving her post reportedly because of interference from Mr. Nickles in her office’s responsibilities, and that Mr. Nickles has continued to live in Virginia since he began working for the city in 2006.
It states Mr. Nickles’ support for the police department’s checkpoint program also raised concerns about infringement on residents’ civil liberties.
Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said Monday the administration “is unequivocally confident in Peter Nickles´ ability and commitment to greatly serve the residents of the District of Columbia as the city´s attorney general.”
“While we respect the council´s process, we look forward to a swift approval resolution,” she said.
Mr. Evans said Mr. Mendelson’s amending the confirmation legislation was “political chicanery” that allowed him to move the resolution out of the committee and simultaneously vote against Mr. Nickles.
Ms. Bowser said she disagreed with the committee report and credited Mr. Nickles with serving the District through public-safety initiatives and efforts to protect tenants’ rights while he has held the office.
She said Tuesday’s consideration of Mr. Nickles’ appointment will present a “vigorous debate.”
“We know that there are some members who have kind of been opposed to the nominee,” she said. “I think that we’re going to have a full discussion.”