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D.C. Succession Questions Answered

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Sherwood's Notebook: In Case You Were Wondering

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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There is a succession plan for the District of Columbia government.

If for any reason the mayor resigns or dies, the chairman of the council would become acting mayor until an election could be held.

In that scenario, the council’s chairman pro tem -- currently Ward 3’s Mary Cheh -- would call a council meeting in which the members would select an at-large member to serve as acting chairman.

But what if a situation arose in which both the mayor and chairman seats were vacated? It’s a bit more complicated.

The chairman pro tem would call a council meeting in which the members would name a council chairman. That chairman immediately would then assume the acting mayor duties. The council then would follow with another vote to name another acting council chairman.

Special elections subsequently would be held to fill out the terms of the departed elected officials. Those elections would be held within 114 days, and there would be no primary. The winner would be whoever got the most votes. No runoff.

If the vacancy occurred within 60 days of an already scheduled election, the elections board has the option to hold the special election on the already scheduled general election day. (Got all that?)

The special election provision is similar for council members themselves, although no temporary replacement is chosen for ward representatives.

It’s all laid out in the Home Rule Charter legislation. D.C. Council counsel (we love using those two words back to back) David Zvenyach offered us an online link to the Home Rule Act.

Who knows, we could be in for a heck of an election year in 2012. Or not.

Under current law, a sitting mayor, chairman or council member would not have to resign until that elected official is imprisoned. If the mayor -- as in the Marion Barry case -- had to stand trial, the mayor could designate the city administrator to perform his duties.

And if the chairman were indisposed, he could designate the chairman pro tem to act as chairman.

That means that if there were a case in which Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown were sidelined but not removed, the acting mayor would be City Administrator Allen Lew and the acting chairman would be Cheh.

We report the above just because a lot of people keep asking us about succession. There’s no hidden agenda, secret message or signal intended.

• Patience wearing thin?

We got quite a surprise last Friday on the Kojo Nnamdi “Politics Hour.” Jim Dinegar, the good-natured, relaxed president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, was our guest on WAMU 88.5 FM.

But he gave anything but a business-as-usual answer when he was told that Mayor Gray had told News4 that “patience is wearing thin” with Occupy DC protesters.

“Businesses are well past the patience point with Occupy DC,” Dinegar replied promptly. “I think the District and the surrounding areas, but specifically the District, is being abused by the occupiers.”

But he didn’t stop there.

He criticized the National Park Service and its parent Interior Department for allowing and extending permits for months on end.

“There’s not a city in the country except for the Washington, D.C., area that has accommodated these protesters to this extent," he said. "We’re a flash point away from real trouble.”

Dinegar praised D.C. police and U.S. Park Police officers for maintaining a professional presence as marches have disrupted the city. (Translation? No foolish use of pepper spray or other strong-arm tactics.) But he criticized the federal and local governments for allowing the continued occupation.

“McPherson Square will be a toxic waste dump for the next couple of years before it’s fully restored,” hurting the businesses and tourism in that downtown area, he said.

“People are reluctant to go downtown. You’ve got the Cherry Blossom [Festival] coming up in the spring, but certainly the Christmas tree lighting now. This is tourist season and you want to attract people to the downtown area, not repel them.”

Dinegar said the protesters “have made their point, whatever that point is.” He said the prospect of “kicking them out on New Year’s Eve when the permit expires? The timing on this is lousy, just terrible.”

• A final word.

Just for the record, we checked: His answer was one minute and 25 seconds long, uninterrupted by either your Notebook or host Kojo Nnamdi.

We’ll see how the next few weeks play out.

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