Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

What can Brown do for Barry? Give him a committee chairmanship.

September 2, 2010 - 12:00 PM
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Adrian Fenty isn't the only one who can use Marion Barry as a weapon.

Fenty, the incumbent mayor, has tried to use Barry's support for mayoral candidate Vince Gray as a way to tar Gray with the corruption and dysfunction of District government in the 1990s.

Now it's Vincent Orange's turn to do the same. Orange is the colorful and eccentric former Ward 5 councilmember. After a failed campaign for mayor in 2006, Orange spent some time watching city politics from the sidelines. This year, he jumped back in, challenging At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown in the race for council chair. 

On TBD NewsTalk yesterday, Orange showcased his take on the link-your-opponent-to-Barry tack. He said that if Brown were elected chair, he'd "make Marion Barry the chair of the economic development committee." Brown, for his part, was a bit more ambivalent, and without committing to anything, floated the idea of giving Barry the chairmanship of a special committee with limited staffing and funding. This prompted a charge of waffling from Orange.

"You can check the record, go back through the fact checks," Orange said.

So what has Brown, who has been endorsed by most of his council colleagues, promised the Ward 8 councilmember?

It's a question with towering implications. Following Barry's involvement in steering "earmarked" council funds to friends and allies in his home ward, his fellow councilmembers in March censured the longtime pol, stripping him of his chairmanship of the housing and workforce development committee. It was a watershed moment for the council, which generally doesn't treat its own members so harshly.

So would Brown end Barry's stint in the council's timeout corner? For starters, Brown has promised not to overhaul the council's committee system, under which each member is allowed to chair a committee. In early June, Orange alleged that Brown had promised Barry the chairmanship of the economic development committee in exchange for the endorsement of the still-influential Barry. His source for these claims? Rumors. But the Washington Post's Ann Marimow does have some additional backing:

A Barry confidant told the [Post] that the former mayor had personally shared word of the alleged deal and that it was common knowledge around the Wilson building.

And the Post's Mike DeBonis later got Brown to say on the record that he would give Barry a committee chairmanship back, without actually saying which committee it would be.

"He expects every member to have a committee, to pull their weight," said James Jones, a spokesman for Brown. "Clearly, they are going to be some committees with smaller stature ... Mr. Brown has not discussed committee assignments with anyone."

A call to Sean Metcalf, Orange's campaign manager, hasn't been returned. We'll update this post if it is.

Brown has promised that every councilmember will get a committee, which would include Barry. But he also seems eager to give Barry the least powerful committee possible, and the evidence for a promise of the economic development seat consists of rumors and an anonymous quote. That's only good enough for us to give Vincent Orange a 50/50.


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