Vincent Orange just accepted the job as president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. It is understandable he needs work since he lost his reelection campaign in June. But his intent to do both jobs, fill out his remaining term on the Council and begin his job as chamber president at the same time, is the kind of thing that turns people off to politics.
Orange chairs the Council Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and if he can’t see the conflict then it’s a good thing people voted him out of office. Taking on both positions at the same time and trying to convince anyone that it’s not a conflict is the height of arrogance, it’s downright offensive, and an embarrassment to the District as we try to convince people we should have statehood.
The Washington Post said in his remaining time in office Orange will earn $56,188 of taxpayer money. The honorable thing to do would have been for him to step down the moment he found out he got his new job. His excuse that he is protecting his staff is nonsense. He was voted out of office and political staff know what to expect. I am sure they have all had their resumes on the street since he lost his reelection in June.
The reactions of Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd are also outrageous. They defended Orange, saying his actions are legal. Mendelson said, “There’s a significant difference between what the public might see as a conflict and what the law prohibits.”
Where is their call for changing the law to prohibit such behavior in the future? Just because something is technically legal doesn’t necessarily make it right and the Council has the ability to change this. I expect to see the same outrage from these two as we have heard from Mary Cheh, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau and Charles Allen.
This is the kind of behavior from our Council members we need to end. If we are to become a state we need to ensure our elected legislators are not allowed to hold other jobs. We need to pay them a living wage and end the conflicts of interest that occur when they have bosses other than the people who elected them. We also need to end the ability for members of the Council to raise money for their constituent service funds, which are simply inappropriate slush funds for them to use at will.
D.C. residents face many challenges and one of the greatest is that we have no representation in Congress. We are often used as a petri dish for congressional experiments like school vouchers, which members of Congress could never foist on their own constituents. If we are to control our own destiny one of the first things Congress must grant us while we fight for statehood is full legislative and budget autonomy.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has reinvigorated the drive for statehood. At the recent Democratic convention, she worked hard to let Democrats across the nation know the more than 630,000 residents of the District are disenfranchised.
Our hard-working Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss hosted an impressive luncheon with the Creative Coalition (an advocacy group formed of members of the American entertainment industry) to generate publicity for statehood. He is working to build on Hillary Clinton’s strong support of statehood. At the luncheon, Bowser spoke as did statehood supporter Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County commissioner, who is now running for attorney general of Pennsylvania. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton was there and has been lending her voice and national reputation to this fight since she was elected our congressional representative in 1990. Strauss shared commercials being shown during the convention in Philadelphia made by stars from the Creative Coalition speaking out for statehood. Members of the coalition attending the luncheon included actors David Schwimmer and Ashley Judd.
In retrospect, the only sour note of the day was Vincent Orange speaking as we now know he is more of an embarrassment to the cause than a help.
It is my hope the City Council leadership and all its members who take seriously the effort to gain statehood understand avoiding blatant conflicts of interest is one way to do that. They should collectively call on Orange to step down immediately and if he doesn’t, Chairman Mendelson should strip him of his committee chairmanship, which he has the authority to do.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.