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Council Chairman rolls over critical colleague

Council Chairman Kwame Brown exercised raw political muscle on Tuesday, showing a heretofore unknown and unseen ability to use his power over what has been an otherwise fractious collection of politicians since he became chair in January. The Chairman led the 13-member Council to vote to strip Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells of his chairmanship of the powerful transportation committee, giving it to Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, and handing Wells the minor committee overseeing parks, recreation and planning. The vote was 12-to-1, with Wells in the one-person minority. This committee shuffle was, by most accounts, at least partial payback by Chairman Brown for Wells’ aggressive investigation and negative conclusion concerning the Chairman’s request for “fully loaded” SUVs as his official vehicle. Wells prefers to take the bus, as multiple videos on his website attest. So Brown threw him under one -- an unprecedented change in committee chairmanships in the middle of a two-year Council term. Chairman Brown is clearly a winner in the short-term – he has demonstrated control of the Council and of the District political agenda. However, the Chairman may suffer in long-term. He has refocused attention on himself and the ethics-related allegations of wrong-doing, including the SUV requests, the federal and D.C. investigations of his at-large reelection campaign finances and his unpaid credit card bills. And he has given Wells a big citywide boost in name recognition and as a victim of political intrigue. Can Wells take advantage of this opportunity? Can the popular-in-Ward 6 councilmember take this ball and run with it? Does Wells have, or more precisely can he develop, the political savoir-faire to become the District’s center of good government, rallying voters against a secretive, unaccountable, ethically-challenged City Council. Yesterday's 12-to-1 vote shows he has a ways to go.