The race to fill Kwame Brown’s At-Large D.C. Council seat is down to six -- or perhaps it’s down to two.
On Thursday, the D.C. Democratic State Committee’s 83 members will select one of the candidates, who will be sworn in to fill the seat until an April special election. At a candidate forum in Ward 6 Monday night, Kelvin Robinson, chief of staff to former Mayor Anthony Williams and a candidate for Council in Ward 5 last year, announced he is giving up his bid and endorsing Vincent Orange.
This is good news for Orange, but it comes at a time that the former councilmember and mayoral candidate is on the defensive. Orange entered the race as the big name in a large field, but over the past few weeks, anti-Orange sentiment has coalesced around Sekou Biddle, a member of the Board of Education. On Monday, new Council Chairman Brown himself endorsed Biddle.
Brown, who easily defeated Orange in the race for the Democratic nomination for Chair last fall, told the Washington Post that when now-mayor Vincent Gray stepped up from his Ward 7 seat to the Council chair, he selected Yvette Alexander as his successor, and suggested he would do the same. Brown called Biddle “a phenomenal guy” who is “smart with a sense of integrity.”
In another blow to Orange, Gray advisor Lorraine Green also endorsed Biddle Monday, and said she will even host a Ben’s Chili Bowl fundraiser for him tonight. Gray himself has remained publicly neutral.
If the contest was one-on-one, at this point it looks like Biddle would win. The question is, will the other candidates pick off enough anti-Orange support to give Orange a narrow victory?
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* Gray strolled into the Wilson Building at 2 p.m. Monday afternoon to start his first day on the job, the Post reports. He can be forgiven for the late start after a long day of partying on Sunday, but he made it clear there’s a lot to do. Gray said one of his first tasks will be visiting the families of those killed in a spate of violence across the city on Sunday, and said he believes a mother of one of the victims may have worked for him during his 1990s stint at the District Department of Human Services.
Gray also announced plans to reinstate regular news conferences, a Williams practice that was discontinued under Fenty, and said all subjects would be fair game.
* Gray may have taken it easy Monday morning, but Brown did not. Gray’s successor in the big chair dumped Ward 2’s Jack Evans as chair pro tempore after a dozen years, replacing him with Ward 3’s Mary Cheh. The position is almost entirely ceremonial, but as the Post writes, it “signals Cheh’s growing influence. Last year, Cheh campaigned hard for Brown in Ward 3, where some voters were concerned about published reports he was in financial distress.” Evans stayed neutral in Brown’s race, but backed Fenty for re-election over Gray.
Evans is an institution in his Georgetown-centered ward, but has never been able to use it as a base for a citywide run. He finished a distant third in his 1998 run for mayor, and passed on running for chair himself last year. The Georgetown Dish attributes Brown’s decision to his “unhappiness with Evans’ failure to support” Gray for mayor.
But in what the Post calls “an apparent consolation prize,” Brown named Evans co-chair of the committee that will redraw ward boundaries to fit population shifts. At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown is the other co-chair. With the District’s population marking its first growth in a half-century, the redistricting process is sure to be contentious.
It seems Brown is asserting himself and making it clear that he will not be Gray’s junior partner. The Post says Brown is making an effort to “exert his control by sending a message to skeptics who doubt his leadership abilities,” and is vowing “new era on the council, one in which members will place a renewed focus on technology and ethics and dig in” to help balance the city budget.
But Washington Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe is skeptical: “The most significant difference between Fenty and Gray with respect to governing could be the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The majority of council members love Vince. Love him!” But will they be independent of him? “After the coronation, let’s hope for some checks and balances,” Jaffe writes.
* WMAL reports that the D.C. Republican Committee is calling for the formation of a bipartisan ethics panel on the D.C. Council -- which could be tough, given that the Council has only Democrats and independents on it right now. In an interview, D.C. GOP spokesman Paul Craney said the lack of an ethics panel is “why we have people like Marion Barry or Harry Thomas. Some don’t pay taxes. Some are being investigated by the IRS, by the Attorney General, and nothing happens.”
* District Department of Transportation Deputy Director of Operations Terry Bellamy has been named interim director of DDOT until Gray finds a permanent replacement for the ousted Gabe Klein. In a message to DDOT employees, Bellamy wrote, “I don’t know how long I will serve in this capacity, but regardless please continue doing what you’re doing, keep working on all the projects and programs that make DDOT shine.”
* Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells has been formally appointed to the Metro Board of Directors, and is expected to take the cherished seat of Ward 1’s Jim Graham. As many Wells fans have pointed out, Wells -- unlike Graham -- actually uses the Metro system regularly.
* The Examiner reports “more than 600 people have signed a petition against Metro’s new random bag searching policy.” The Metro Riders’ Advisory Council held a public forum last night to discuss the policy.
* The Post reports Gov. Martin O’Malley “is scaling back his Jan. 19 inaugural activities compared to four years ago,” which make sense, since that party was about his being elected, while this one is about the fact that he didn’t get fired.
* The Post has the results of its online vote for “your favorite D.C. area Twitter users.” The winner for “favorite D.C. area blogger”: National Review’s Jonah Goldberg -- who does not write about District issues.
* What kind of Metro bus rider are you? The 42 Bus has a list.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC