With the general and special elections behind District voters, the job of legislating begins anew under the leadership of a person many describe as a policy wonk, and a nitpicker.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson [D] handily beat his opponent Calvin Gurley on Election Day to become the eighth chair of the city's 13-person legislative body.
"I want the new council in January to establish some clear priorities and opportunities," Mendelson said. "We want to work doggedly to achieve these priorities, and I want a council that gains the confidence of the citizens of the District of Columbia." Mired by scandals and resignations by members in 2012, Mendelson has his work cut out for him.
As the head of the council and the Committee of the Whole, Mendelson has to appoint each member to chair one of the council's 13 committees, which considers legislation on policy; and oversees government agencies and boards.
Already, political observers are forecasting his choices, long before he takes the oath of office in January. Recent reports indicate that Jack Evans [D-Ward 2] wants oversight over a committee that combines Economic Development and Housing, along with his current Committee on Finance and Revenue.
Evans, the most senior member, won his seventh election to the council. Recently, he told The Washington Informer, he plans to run for mayor if Mayor Vincent C. Gray, 70, doesn't run for re-election.
Chuck Thies, a political consultant and co-host of WPFW "DC Politics" show, puts it best.
"Mendelson is very hard to predict," said Thies, 47. "For sure, I see an education committee being formed." He added that Mendelson will certainly make additional changes.
"Look for him to give something good to [Ward 4 Council member] Muriel Bowser, and then run side-by-side with her as mayor/chair," Thies theorized. He added, that Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh may get Judiciary while Tommy Wells [D-Ward 6] may return to the Committee on Environment, Public Works, and Transportation, reversing a Brown decision.
However, Mendelson said he hasn't yet determined who will chair the various committees.
"I'd like to talk to each member on their preference, and see how they'd like to see the council makeup," said Mendelson, 60, who added that the final decision would be "based on consensus." He said he'll also look at the demands of the committees, weigh members' interests and backgrounds, and, seniority in terms of time on the council.
Education may not be easily resolved. In 2007, the District's public and charter school systems under the auspices of the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation merged with the 14 agencies under the Committee of the Whole, in an effort to strengthen oversight by the entire body. Today, four agencies deal with education in that committee. Many have argued that the chairman's staff has spread itself too thin, and education needs to be the sole focus of a single committee staff.
"It's an issue," Mendelson said. His former opponent, Gurley, argued for returning education to its own committee. It may not happen.
"I appreciate that many people believe it's a separate committee," Mendelson said. "More importantly – we have to weigh who gets it. Having a separate committee doesn't mean it will be better managed."
He didn't say if education will become a separate committee or if it will stay under the purview of the Committee of the Whole.
None of the council members queried chose to weigh in on their committee preferences.
Mendelson declined to discuss the ethics probe by the council's new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability into Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham's activities related to a city lottery contract and a Metro land deal.
"We've established a number of outside processes that have the best ways to handle ethics violations," Mendelson said.