The D.C. Council, in its first meeting of the year and of Council Period 25 on Jan. 3, voted on its rules and new committee composition, but not without a protest from D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7).
Gray offered two rule changes to change the composition of committees. The former mayor and council chairman didn’t like that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) stripped him of his Committee on Health chairmanship and assigned him to a new panel with less power, the Committee on Hospitals and Health Equity. Nevertheless, the council voted overwhelmingly to approve Mendelson’s plan to the Ward 7 lawmaker’s chagrin.
“The D.C. Council committee organization put forward by Chairman Mendelson was flawed,” Gray said. “As the chairman has stated on numerous occasions, Mendelson based his decision to remove me as chair of the Committee on Health based on my health, not my ability or the performance of the Health Committee under my leadership.”
Gray stressed that when he served as council chairman — from 2007-2011 — the body adhered to the D.C. Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the city based on factors such as health condition. He said Mendelson’s shifting of the chairmanship of the Health Committee from him to Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) “run afoul of the Human Rights Act, of not the letter of the law, surely its spirit.”
“We accept the process by which Mendelson’s proposal passed but reject the premise,” Gray said. “Concern for my health is appreciated, discrimination based on health is unconscionable. My staff and I will now consider all options.”
Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) supported Gray’s first motion. Gray’s second motion, creating the Committee on Education and taking it away from the Committee of the Whole chaired by Mendelson, also failed.
While Gray voiced his concern about the committee process, Henderson expressed approval.
“I’m honored to have been appointed by my colleagues as the chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Health,” she said. “We have much work to do to enhance our health system infrastructure, tackle the growing challenge of substance and opioid abuse, strengthen our school-based mental health program, improve our maternal health outcomes, and address gun violence as a public health issue.”
Henderson said she looked forward to working closely with Gray on health-related issues.
Many Gray supporters expressed concern at his losing the Health Committee chairmanship.
“Vincent Gray has served the city well, second only to Marion,” said Cora Masters Barry, a former D.C. first lady. “The move to take the Health committee away from him shows a lack of respect, compassion and integrity. He is 80 and he is doing his job. Taking away the chairmanship is ageism.”
Additional council action
Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) sponsored a rule change that his colleagues approved that requires the secretary of the council to establish a uniform process for public witnesses to sign up to testify at committee hearings and roundtables.
“Every committee has its own way of having people to sign up for hearings and that can cause confusion,” Parker, 35, said. “This way, there will be a single form the committees use to accommodate all public witnesses.”
Parker also passed a rule change that would require witnesses from city agencies and executive departments managed by the mayor to take an oath to tell the truth while they testify.
“This is a common practice in committee hearings, but this rule change would make it mandatory,” he said.
Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) was re-elected as the body’s chairman pro tempore. The pro tempore operates the D.C. Council in absence of the chairman.
“As I enter Council Period 25 as chair pro tempore, I will focus on inspiring cohesion and teamwork on the council as we come together to identify solutions for the needs of District residents,” McDuffie, 48, said.
McDuffie will retain his position as chairman of the Committee on Business and Economic Development while Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) will chair the new Committee on Executive Administration and Labor. Council members Robert White (D-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) will lead the Committee on Housing, Committee on Public Works and Operations and Committee on Transportation and the Environment, respectively.
The Wards 4 and 8 Council members and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) will chair the Committee on Facilities and Family Services, Committee on Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs and Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, respectively.
Mendelson will continue as the chairman of the Committee of the Whole.
Freshman lawmakers Parker and Matt Frumin (D-Ward 3) will not chair a committee during Council Period 25.