- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2016

The D.C. Democratic Party will likely appoint city activist Robert White next week to the at-large council seat being vacated by lame-duck lawmaker Vincent Orange. But it is not clear when Mr. White would join the council, which is on summer recess.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. White confirmed Monday that he has been in talks with at-large council member Anita Bonds, who heads the D.C. Democratic State Committee, and other party members about filling the remainder of Mr. Orange’s term. He said the party plans to appoint him and he plans to accept.

“Everyone in the party is very supportive of me taking the seat, and I would like to get an early start,” Mr. White told The Times.

Mr. White defeated Mr. Orange in June’s Democratic primary for the at-large seat. Because Democrats account for about 75 percent of the city’s registered voters, Mr. White is virtually assured victory in November’s general election.

Mr. Orange resigned from the council Aug. 15 after accepting the leadership of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, a business group that lobbies Mr. Orange’s legislative committee.

Under D.C. law, the party of a resigning lawmaker can name an interim replacement. The law also says the city Board of Elections must hold a special election within 174 days of the resignation.

A 174-day period after Mr. Orange’s resignation would run through November’s general elections and past the Jan. 2 date when newly elected council members are seated. Therefore, the Board of Elections would not be required to hold a special election.

The timing of Mr. Orange’s resignation and council’s summer recess has created an unprecedented situation. Neither council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s spokesperson nor the elections board could say Monday whether or when Mr. White would be seated with other lawmakers.

“While it is ridiculous that a political party is choosing the replacement, the runway for a special election is quite narrow,” D.C. Republican Party official Patrick Mara said in an email. “When Orange resigns on the 15th that’s a very brief period between August 15 and January 2 to hold an election. The process needs to be reformed.”

The D.C. Council is scheduled to reconvene on Sept. 20.

Mr. Orange announced in late July that he had taken the job with the Chamber of Commerce but said he would stay on the council until his term ends in December.

At first, Mr. Orange said he wanted to hold on to his council seat because he didn’t want his 14 legislative staffers to lose their jobs. Later, he said his new job wouldn’t be a conflict of interest because the council would have little work to do this year after it reconvenes.

Residents and council members said the job would be a significant conflict of interest because of the chamber’s role as a lobbyist for businesses in the city. Mr. Orange responded by saying he would give up his chairmanship of the council’s committee on business, consumer and regulatory affairs, which handles most business-related legislation.

He continued to scoff at critics, saying he would recuse himself from any decisions and asked the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to help him figure out how to balance the two jobs.

On Friday, Mr. Orange confirmed that he would step down on Aug. 15 “to just have a good, clean break.”

During his campaign, Mr. White attacked Mr. Orange for violating ethics, including taking donations from city contractors and meddling with health inspectors who were trying to shut down a produce store infested with rats. The store’s owner had made campaign donations to Mr. Orange.

With his appointment to Mr. Orange’s seat imminent, Mr. White said he is studying the important legislation the council will consider in the coming months so he can hit the ground running.

Two major bills are moving through the council: One would require employers to give work schedules to employees at least three weeks in advance; the other would make businesses pay a 1 percent tax to fund paid family and medical leave for all of the District’s workers.

The D.C. Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes both. Mr. Orange would have had to recuse himself from votes on both pieces of legislation if he held on to his seat.

Mr. White said he supports paid family leave and fair scheduling, though he said he is still working out the details.

“I’ve always been a supporter of paid family leave,” Mr. White said. “I come from a working-class family that has struggled in this city. I want to immediately pull in the paid-leave advocates and the business community to have a conversation.”

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide