Yesterday was supposed to be At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s day. And At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown’s day, too. Indeed, their colleagues awarded Mendelson and Brown the D.C. Council’s two top posts, chair and chair pro tempore, respectively.
But it was Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander who stole the show.
Councilmembers Vincent Orange and Marion Barry spent much of the morning questioning Brown’s fitness to serve in the largely ceremonial post. Orange offered an array of bizarre criticisms, but his primary attack -- which Barry aped -- was based on Brown’s 1997 conviction for breaking federal campaign finance regulations and some recent tax problems.
When the vote for Brown neared, Barry tried to explain that the attacks on his colleague were not personal and that he was merely citing news accounts. Brown laughed during Barry’s pseudo-apology, to which Barry replied, “You can laugh if you want. This is not funny.”
After sitting silent for most of the debate, Alexander caught the attention of everyone in the chamber with a cogent point. She noted that Barry and Orange had no problem using news reports to malign Brown, but when media pokes them, they question the veracity of reporting and claim bias.
Alexander then went on to call for peace and respectability among her colleagues.
"We have to stop fighting. I'm sick of it," she exclaimed.
The session had been an antagonistic and invective filled affair.
Take, for example, this gem from At-Large Councilmember David Catania: “We have several months of acrimony and several months of uncertainty [ahead].”
Or this from Barry: "We are the laughing stock of the nation."
And Orange: "We don't have to like each other. We have to work with each other.”
Even Brown, who knew at the beginning of the day that he had all the votes needed to win, reminded his colleagues that he can open doors for them at the 2012 Democratic National Convention or assure their place at the back of long lines.
Halfway through Alexander’s plea for calm, she choked up and cried. She was clearly upset with the hostile mood of the proceedings and appeared demoralized by events from the past week that saw her friend Kwame Brown forced from office.
Alexander’s genuine, heartfelt moment silenced the room.
If ever there was a pivotal moment during the past 18 months of scandal, backbiting, backstabbing and lack of decorum, perhaps Alexander’s earnest outpouring was it.
Perhaps her colleagues will pause to reflect on the insanity that their personal conduct and treatment of one another has created. Perhaps they will come to understand that their decisions and behavior are what will restore faith in the District’s lone legislative body.
Things can get a lot worse. Federal investigators have lifted the lid on a can of worms that may be bottomless.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh recently said, “The whole government is going to fall” if another elected official is arrested.
That is not acceptable.
Government has to be strong regardless of the challenges it faces. The D.C. Council needs to get its act together.
Hopefully, Alexander’s touch of humanity will wake up her colleagues and end their wicked clowning around.
If the imprudence persists, if, as Catania predicted, the acrimony continues, any Council member who allowed Alexander’s moment to pass without a second thought may be the next one crying.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.