- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2012

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange is set to host a small-business summit downtown on Friday — a who’s who event at which Mayor Vincent C. Gray and top officials discuss business opportunities in the city — but a mailing that advertises the event tests the delicate boundary between an incumbent’s duties and the fight for name recognition on the path to Election Day.

A mailing for Friday’s summit clearly states the event is hosted by Vincent B. Orange, chairman of the council’s Committee on Small and Local Business Development, and exhibits the committee’s logo. The brochure also requests a $75 registration fee for meals and administrative costs for the event, to be held at the Hamilton Restaurant and the John A. Wilson Building.

Council rules say a member “may not mail, as official mail, a mass mailing within the 90-day period that immediately precedes a primary, special or general election in which the Councilmember is a candidate for office.” The rules also say “an elected official may not use official mail to solicit directly or indirectly funds for any purpose.”

Exemptions in the council rules authorize mailings with “information concerning the meeting schedule and agenda for committees and subcommittees upon which the Councilmember serves.”

Mr. Orange, a Democrat, is up for re-election Nov. 6 in a closely watched race for two at-large seats on the council. It pits Mr. Orange and his fellow incumbent, Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, against several energetic challengers.

No one has explicitly accused Mr. Orange or his office of flouting the rules, and the council’s general counsel, V. David Zvenyach, declined to comment on whether the mailing that lists Mr. Orange’s name on the cover falls within an exemption.

Nonetheless, the mailing highlights the gray areas involved in carrying out official duties while running as an incumbent, and there were discrepancies over which office sent out the mailing.

A logo on the brochure says it was designed by the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, which Mr. Orange oversees as part of his committee duties. Mr. Orange and his staff said the commission sent out the mailing, but a spokesman for the commission said Thursday “the brochure was sent out by Council member Vincent Orange’s office.”

For his part, Mr. Orange noted the event is a joint venture with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the 90-day prohibition applies “to newsletters, anyway.”

“Newsletters when you’re actually promoting Vincent Orange,” he added. “This is talking about meetings and what other people are doing.”

Mr. Orange couched his role as more of an emcee for the event, noting Stephen Fuller is the keynote speaker on why D.C. government and local businesses should work together, and said financial arrangements for the event were being handled by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

A spokeswoman for council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, said Wednesday it was their understanding that Mr. Orange’s office did not mail the brochure.

Mr. Orange, as the Democratic nominee, is widely believed to be in the best position to secure one of the two at-large seats up for grabs. Challengers David Grosso, an independent, and Mary Brooks Beatty, the Republican nominee, have focused on trying to unseat Mr. Brown to secure the slot reserved for a minority party in the heavily Democratic city.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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