- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A Peter J. Nickels as D.C. attorney general.

The Public Safety and Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson, who said that Mr. Nickles’ tenure has been “replete with actions and statements that show he regards his primary responsibility to be to the mayor… leaving the role of the people’s chief law enforcement officer vacant.”

This is the only real and most important dissent - although it omits a key fact. The chief law enforcement officer in the District is a federal prosecutor (U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor), not Mr. Nickles. But Mr. Mendelson does have a legitimate concern: Mr. Nickles must be beholden to the people of the city, not merely the mayor.

A history lesson is in order.

The debate over the Nickles nomination is at hand because, in 2002, D.C. residents overwhelmingly voted for an advisory referendum to amend the Home Rule Act and create an elected district attorney’s office with a four-year term. After the vote, Mr. Mendelson and then-Council member Fenty joined their colleagues on the council to support the change. Then-Office of the Attorney General.

That was much easier for City Hall and lobbyists to accept, because empowering the city with judicial matters also meant building a prison within the city’s borders, funding the civil and criminal judicial systems and an inevitable fight with Congress. All this came about as the city was trying to emerge from federal receivership.

A full-council vote on the Nickles nomination is scheduled for next week. Mr. Nickles’ job is to represent the city, as happened during the gun-rights lawsuit that the city ultimately lost. If the council wants to fight with the mayor, it shouldn’t use Mr. Nickles as scapegoat. If the mayor and the council want to change the job description of the city’s attorney, that’s their prerogative - but the proper mechanism is through legislation - not the confirmation process.

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