The expected resignation of D.C. Council member Vincent Orange as he assumes the presidency of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce has District residents taking sides.
Current D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-large) is expected to become president of the District Chamber of Commerce. (AFRO File Photo)
On July 28, D.C. Chamber of Commerce Chairman Carl Hairston announced that Orange will be the new president and chief executive officer of his organization. Orange is scheduled to start his new job on Aug. 15, but initially wanted to stay on the city council for the remainder of his term that is scheduled to end on Jan. 17, 2017.
However, several D.C. residents seem conflicted about that choice. “I don’t see that as a conflict of interest,” Sandy Allen, a former D.C. Council member who represented Ward 8 from 1996-2007, told the AFRO.
Philip Pannell, a well-known political and civic activist in the city, said he disagrees. “I don’t think it is appropriate for him to be on the council and be president of the chamber,” Pannell told the AFRO. “I think it is a glaring conflict of interest.”
Orange has served on the D.C. Council as the Ward 5 representative from 1999-2007 and he won a special election as an at-large Democratic representative on April 26, 2011, and was elected to a full term in 2012.
But, Orange was defeated for re-election on June 14 by Robert White in the Democratic Party primary.
When Orange announced that he wanted to keep both positions there was talk in the John A. Wilson Building and in some quarters of the District that he shouldn’t be allowed to do that. Orange argued to his critics that he could do both and would recuse himself from any matters that appeared before him as the chairman of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Some people were still uncomfortable with the arrangement, so on Aug. 3 Orange announced that he would give up his chairmanship on the committee to let work presented to the committee fold into the Committee of the Whole. With resistance to his presence on the council still festering, it has been reported that Orange would step down on Aug. 15, his first day of work at the chamber.
However, the AFRO has learned that as of Aug. 10 Orange has yet to submit his resignation to the Office of the Secretary of the D.C. Council or to the D.C. Board of Elections, as is required by District law.
The D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability hadn’t made a statement about the Orange matter and was prodded to do so only in light of D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s (D) recent request for a written opinion.
Orange’s staff won’t comment on their boss’s status with the council to the AFRO. D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) and D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) have publicly raised questions as to whether Orange can stay on the council and hold the chamber position simultaneously. However, both Grosso’s and Silverman’s communication directors have told the AFRO that their bosses haven’t called for Orange’s resignation from the council.
Orange is away from the District and won’t return until the week of Aug. 15.
Allen points out that the D.C. Council member position is a part-time job and holding another job has been done before.
“Charlene Drew Jarvis served on the council and was the president of Southeastern University,” Allen said of her former colleague who was the president of the District-based institution and served as the Ward 4 representative at the same time from 1996-2001.
Other D.C. Council members who have held other jobs include D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) as an insurance executive for Central Benefits Mutual Insurance and from 2001-2015 was a counsel attorney at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs and is presently counsel to the law firm of Manatt Phelps & Phillips and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who teaches at the George Washington University School of Law.
Allen said she understands the perception that Orange “cannot serve two gods” but thinks he should stay put.
“There is a thought pattern that the chamber brings so much pressure on the council to enact legislation in its favor that he possibly couldn’t be biased,” she said. “I think Orange can separate the two.”
Pannell said that the chamber is a major special interest group and the sense of conflicting interests isn’t good. He also said that the council member position should be fulltime.
“If a council member can’t get by on a six-figure salary , then they need to find another line of work,” he said.