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The Race for the Chairman's Seat

10/31/2012, 1:29 p.m.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson versus Calvin Gurley, both Democrats

Earlier this year, the race for the Council of the District of Columbia chairmanship wasn't on anyone's radar. The city after all had a capable leader in the recently elected Kwame Brown who won the seat in 2011, which was vacated by then-chair Mayor Vincent C. Gray. However, by June 2012, Brown was forced to resign due to some poor personal financial decisions he made. He resigned from the D.C. Council after he was charged with misdemeanor unlawful cash campaign expenditures. This violated D.C. election law that prohibited cash campaign expenditure over $50. Brown awaits sentencing in November.

In the interim, Brown's former colleagues voted for At-Large Council member Phil Mendelson [D] to serve as chairman. Mendelson, 59, who stated his intention of running for the position, isn't in an uncontested race. He's running against Democrat Calvin Gurley, 54, in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Mendelson was first elected to the D.C. Council in November 1998. He is the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and is a member of four additional committees: Jobs and Workforce Development; Libraries, Parks, and Recreation; Public Services and Consumer Affairs.

Mendelson believes government should be an honest, efficient deliverer of services; that the District should help those least able to help themselves to develop the skills to become self-sufficient and end the cycle of poverty; and that government must do this without increasing the tax burdens already shouldered by middle-and-upper income residents.

Mendelson's vision for the chairmanship is improving education, public safety, jobs and the economy and voting rights.

"The District, as the nation's capital, should be a model of service delivery - in public education, public safety, and public health," said Mendelson who's lived in the District since 1970, and has a bachelor's from The American University.

On his re-election web site were endorsements and videotaped testimonials by residents about his candidacy.

He is an "outstanding individual," said Brett Greene, president and chief executive of American Management Corporation, who endorsed Mendelson. "He represents the entire city, he's accessible; and he gives his honest opinion."

However, opponent Gurley said that leadership is the "weakness of Phil Mendelson and the entire [D.C.] Council as a whole." Gurley, a native Washingtonian and Ward 4 resident, is a federal government auditor with accounting experience in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

"The D.C. Council does not have an education committee," Gurley said. "In the midst of a poor school system with an $800 million dollar budget, Phil does nothing regarding his responsibility for the oversight of the District's school system." The Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation was placed within the council's Committee of the Whole in 2007 in an effort to strengthen oversight by the entire body.

However, Gurley believes education needs its own committee where it will be treated as a priority.

"I am the only candidate who has plans to improve D.C. Public Schools with more teachers, aides, improved science labs, computers in every classroom and school libraries will remain open, and librarians will not be fired," Gurley said, "without raising taxes."

Gurley said he "plans to put more police on the street, bring meaningful commercial development, and have the city deliver all it had previously promised. We can reduce conflicts of interest in the council."

"I have a strong background in detecting fraud, waste and abuse in government agencies and departments," said Gurley, adding he has an understanding of oversight responsibilities as it rests with "upper management, internal control systems and with each council member who chairs a committee."

Ward 5 resident Eric Jones weighed in on the race.

"I don't think Gurley has the name recognition. Phil is seen as the only viable candidate in the race," Jones said. "I think the real discussion is about the At-Large race and the upcoming special [election]."

He referred to the next election in D.C., which will find a replacement for Mendelson's vacated seat.

Phil Mendelson's website is http://philmendelson.com/2012/ and Calvin Gurley's http://www.calvingurley.com