Despite the looming “criminal” charge freshly hanging over his own politics, Council Chairman Kwame Brown extracted some political payback Tuesday to show that he’s still in charge of the D.C. Council. And he mostly succeeded, although the political fallout is far from clear.
Brown introduced a surprise committee realignment that suddenly stripped the Transportation Committee -- and Metro Board seat -- from Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells.
Although Brown repeated (and repeatedly) insisted that the move was just to better align council chairmanship, few were accepting that explanation.
The real reason -- and some Brown advisers privately admitted this -- was punishment for Wells.
Earlier this year, Wells authored a stinging rebuke of the chairman and his city-paid leases of two “fully loaded” SUVs.
The report severely damaged the chairman’s image and continues to do so.
After the chairman’s move Tuesday, Wells tried to play it cool. He said he had stood for ethical behavior and was glad he had done the SUV report. But Wells said his removal from the Metro board would set back the city a year or more while the new member gets up to speed.
Wells said he didn’t want to make his demotion “personal,” but said it was well known that Brown was still bitter over the SUV embarrassment. Wells’s office said it had received more than 1,000 emails and phone calls denouncing the political move.
The committee realignment -- almost unprecedented in the history of the council -- was great political theater. Brown called Wells to his office late Monday night to deliver the bad news.
The immediate beneficiary of Brown’s action is Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh.
Cheh told NBC Washington that she wouldn’t get into the alleged political motives but said she supports Chairman Brown’s effort to marry transportation and environmental issues under her committee.
“I’m going to run with it,” she said.
The new turmoil in the council was too much for D.C. Chamber of Commerce leader Barbara Lang, who told NBC Washington that the city is not making progress because of several criminal investigations of elected leaders, worries over the sagging economy and joblessness, and the general image that the mayor and council are not sticking to business.
“This is a great city,” she said, urging the political leadership to get back to work.