Vincent B. Orange doesn’t see himself as an opportunist.
Rather, he’s more of a “relief pitcher” with the chops to push the District’s business goals, he said, after council member Harry Thomas Jr. relinquished control of the Committee on Economic Development while he fights a lawsuit accusing him of taking public funds for personal use.
Mr. Orange, an at-large Democrat who returned to the D.C. Council in May through a special election, is in a unique position. He served two terms on the council as a Ward 5 member - the same ward Mr. Thomas represents - and takes credit for some development projects in the northeast section of the city.
Joining the council mid-stream left him without a chairmanship, and his prospects for one remain doubtful - but that hasn’t stopped him from trying in light of Mr. Thomas’ predicament.
Mr. Orange touted himself as the best person to take the helm on the economic development committee on Wednesday, just moments after Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown announced the committee’s duties would be assumed by the Committee of the Whole.
Mr. Brown said it is a temporary measure until the end of the council’s summer recess.
One council staffer, speaking on background, said the solution appears to be a good one in the short term, but whoever assumes the role of chairman “has to have a really clean record” to free the committee of a “pall of corruptibility.”
Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said he is concerned that the Committee of the Whole, which consists of all the 13 council members and already has control of education, will be taking on too many responsibilities and expand to its largest role “since I’ve been here.”
Mr. Evans, a 20-year member of the council, said he is aware of Mr. Orange’s request, but “I want to hear more discussion.”
Even before Mr. Brown’s announcement, observers in the John A. Wilson Building saw little prospect of Mr. Orange gaining the chairmanship. After all, Mr. Orange lost to Mr. Brown in last year’s race to be council chairman, and Mr. Brown was singled out as one of the people who picked Sekou Biddle over Mr. Orange to fill Mr. Brown’s vacated at-large council seat until the special election.
“This has nothing to do with whether there’s bad blood or not, this is the operations of the government here right now,” Mr. Orange said. “You don’t have talent just sitting on the bench. In a baseball game, when a pitcher’s done, you have to bring in a relief pitcher.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Mr. Orange rushed from the bullpen in his new term. In recent budget talks, a promise to fund his Emancipation Day festivities was a decisive factor in passing an amendment that makes a tax on out-of-state bonds permanent and devotes additional revenues to social services instead of rolling back the bonds tax.
Mr. Orange says he laid the groundwork for his position. On the campaign trail, he said, he called on the District to gather revenue through Medicaid reimbursements, the collection of unpaid parking tickets and tax liens, and to end the tax-exempt status of out-of-state bonds.
Similarly, Mr. Orange looks to the past to explain why he should be chairman of the committee. He was a council member for eight years, during which he was chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and served on the economic development and finance and revenue committees.
“There are a number of issues that have to be addressed and need leadership, and you can’t wait until September to try to figure out what you want to do,” Mr. Orange said.
As for Mr. Thomas, he says he has done nothing wrong and expects to regain his chairmanship as soon as the suit if resolved.