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Council shuffle: a deeper look...

By exerting his authority as Chairman of the D.C. Council to assign and reorganize committee chairs last week, Kwame Brown set off a firestorm of media backlash, most of which centered around speculation that it was a thinly veiled act of retribution against Councilmember Tommy Wells. Yet Wells had no support from his 11 colleagues, and the media would have us believe that members acted only out of fear.

Politics is a rough and tumble universe, not for the faint of heart or those without conviction of thought and deed. Most likely what we witnessed was a shift of power to members who support the maligned Chairman – not all that unusual as political posturing goes. It seems that several Councilmembers involved in the switch received coveted assignments in return for their vote. But to view Wells as a victim does a disservice to Mary Cheh, his replacement. The move is hardly a death knell for livable, walkable communities and urbanists.

But what if the news of the day focused on the not-so-sexy achievements that take place daily inside the Wilson Building? One might not be so quick to chastise Chairman Brown for establishing his leadership. Set aside the scandals, missteps, or alleged wrongdoing (yes, Councilmembers should be held accountable for their political and personal actions, and those suspected of self-aggrandizement will be taken to task if allegations of wrongdoing are found to be true) and consider what has been accomplished beyond the titillating headlines.

Under Brown’s leadership, the Council has, in the midst of the gloomiest economic forecast in many years, delivered a balanced budget on time and without devastating hits to social welfare programs or unnecessary new taxes. This Council period resulted in more than 300 pieces of legislation being passed – a sure sign that the city’s business is being taken care of.

Now, Brown has taken on stewardship of three critical government agencies – Public Schools, General Services, and Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development – and he deserves the opportunity to test his mettle in these areas before being written off. So far, his legislative track record stands strongly in favor of preparing D.C. residents for work through vocational education and literacy programs, and putting residents to work through workforce development and job creation initiatives. He has opened the dialogue on ethical standards for the Council, and although detractors have criticized his legislation for not going far enough, he’s not turned a deaf ear to suggestions on how it can be improved.

From this perspective, the legislative branch is hardly dysfunctional. Perception is everything only if you are myopic. It’s time to ask what is really going on here and take a deeper look at the outcomes for residents, businesses, and visitors. Is Washington’s fate tied to the personalities or failings of those holding office? I think not. With one of the most educated electorates in the nation, we are capable of making our own judgments – but first we must arm ourselves with all the information.

-- by Irma Esparza Diggs

Irma Esparza Diggs was chief of staff to then At-large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown and managed his campaign for Council Chairman.