- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The D.C. Democratic State Committee is in disarray over filling the remainder of D.C. Council member Vincent Orange’s term this year even though the at-large lawmaker has not yet resigned from office.

Party leaders have backed placing city activist Robert White, who defeated Mr. Orange in June’s Democratic primary, in the seat as an interim council member, especially since Mr. White more than likely will win November’s general election and join the council on Jan. 2.

But longtime state committee member Anita Shelton wants a shot at being the interim legislator, saying no committee member has received any notice from leaders about how an interim lawmaker will be selected.

“Just because someone is going to be something doesn’t mean he’s the best person to provide continuity in this situation,” said Ms. Shelton, who represents Ward 1 on the committee. “No vote has been scheduled and [committee Chair Anita Bonds] hasn’t said anything legitimately. That’s not a way to run a railroad. Perhaps the chair was trying to do the expedient thing. I think she was well intending.”

Another committee member echoed Ms. Shelton, saying that party leaders have the same voting privileges as rank-and-file members.

“Chairman Bonds, like every other member, has one vote,” said the committee member, who requested anonymity. “While many Democrats, including me, are happy with Robert White’s primary victory, there are members of the committee who say they have never even met Mr. White.”

The D.C. Democratic State Committee has not returned several calls and emails seeking comment this week.

Under D.C. law, the party of a resigning lawmaker can name an interim replacement. The D.C. Board of Elections also is required to hold a special election for a seat within 174 days of a resignation.

But Mr. Orange, who has accepted the top position at the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, has not yet resigned his seat on the council. He reportedly is to resign on Aug. 15.

A spokesperson for council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he has not received a letter of resignation from Mr. Orange, who reportedly will start his new job on Monday. As the Chamber of Commerce’s president, Mr. Orange would head a business group that lobbies the legislative committee he currently leads — an apparent conflict of interest that prompted calls for his anticipated resignation.

Mr. Orange has not returned several calls and emails seeking comment this week.

The council returns from its summer recess on Sept. 20.

The unprecedented situation raises many questions about process, both political and electoral. But the Board of Elections has not returned several calls and emails seeking comment this week.

What’s more, a spokesperson for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has said no one has contacted that office for guidance on naming an interim successor.

Ms. Shelton, a well-known activist who was part of the original statehood push in the 1980s, said she wants the process to play out rather than be directed by a few party leaders.

But a longtime state committee member said that Ms. Bonds, who is also an at-large member of the D.C. Council, is well aware that she holds only one vote and has thrown her support behind Mr. White because she thinks it’s best for the party to back the nominee. (Because Democrats account for about 75 percent of the city’s registered voters, Mr. White is virtually assured victory in November.)

“Many members feel we should support the Democratic nominee,” said the committee member, who requested anonymity. “But it’s not a done deal. The 84 individuals have every right to vote for whomever they want.”

The committee member also said Ms. Bonds is in Chicago and hasn’t been able to inform all members about the process ahead.

“But it will be an open process, developed with the full knowledge of the state party,” the member said.

A 174-day period after Mr. Orange’s resignation would run through November’s general elections and into January, so the Board of Elections presumably would not be required to hold a special election.

Ms. Shelton said she would be a better choice for the interim because she knows how the process works and understands how to move bills through the council.

“The art of legislating is compromise,” she said. “I have a respect for and knowledge of the process.”

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