Vincent C. Gray protests probosed D.C. Council committee reassignment

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D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) is objecting to a proposal that would shrink his oversight responsibilities through the remainder of his term, a move that Gray said could amount to discrimination based on his physical state.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) unveiled his proposed committee assignments Wednesday ahead of the legislature’s next two-year council period, which will begin in January. But one of his potential changes would remove Gray as chair of the council’s important Health Committee and instead give him oversight of a new committee focused exclusively on hospitals and “health equity” — a comparatively smaller portfolio.

At a meeting to announce the new committees, Mendelson said his intent was “to accommodate [Gray’s] recovery and facilitate robust oversight while his hours and mobility are limited.” Christina Henderson (I-At Large), who was elected to the council in 2021, would chair the Health Committee under Mendelson’s proposal, an assignment that includes oversight of agencies like the Department of Health and Department of Health Care Finance.

Gray, 80, suffered a stroke last December and tore his Achilles’ tendon in August. As he continues to recover, the former mayor has been seen at public appearances moving gingerly, at times using a walker or cane to get around. And Gray was not able to fully participate in a council meeting that stretched into the late evening two weeks ago, leaving early under the guidance of his physician who instructed him not to work more than eight hours per day.

In an email to the full council on Tuesday, Gray, who has chaired the Health Committee since 2017, said the stroke did not leave him with cognitive damage even though it has affected his speech. He was cleared to work by his cardiologist and neurologist in June and is also seeing a speech therapist, Gray said, “who is optimistic that I will continue to improve.” He questioned his colleagues’ qualifications to assess his health and capacity.

“To be clear, my only limitations are physical and they are temporary. Changing my Committee assignment or any other aspect of my role in the workplace due to health reasons is a clear violation of the DC Human Rights Act,” Gray wrote before asking Mendelson to reconsider the plan, pointing to his successes chairing the Health Committee. “I am disappointed in my colleagues who have attempted to leverage my health challenges for a power grab or political gain.”

Henderson declined to comment on Gray’s email. Mendelson said in an interview he reached the decision after speaking to the council’s other members and found “there was virtually unanimous sentiment that it would be best if Vince had a lighter load and worked on his recovery.”

He rejected Gray’s claim of a possible Human Rights Act violation, calling it “unfortunate.”

“This is not punishment, it’s about recovery. [Gray and his staff] are taking it the wrong way,” Mendelson added. “Members are not happy about the situation and they want Vince to recover. To send an email that implies there can be a legal challenge is … completely out of place when it comes to a matter like a political body reorganizing itself.”

D.C. Council approves housing authority overhaul in final meeting of 2022

Under D.C. Council rules, the chairman decides how committees are structured and selects who oversees them; the council will vote on his changes when the next council period begins in January. Committees generally contain five members including a chair, though freshman lawmakers are traditionally not assigned as committee chairs.

Most bills are introduced and scrutinized at the committee level before they are considered by the full council; committees also conduct performance- and budget-related oversight of any city agencies that fall under its purview. In addition to a new hospital and health equity committee, Mendelson is also proposing a host of new and modified committees, including committees for “executive administration and labor,” “public works and operations,” “facilities and family services” as well as a dedicated Housing Committee. Right now, the Housing Committee is paired with oversight of executive administration.

Mendelson also proposed significant changes to committee leaders. Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), who previously chaired the committee on government operations and facilities, would instead lead the Housing Committee. Current Housing Committee Chair Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who has faced attacks from critics and housing advocates in recent months for her oversight of the city’s beleaguered public housing authority, would instead chair the new committee focused on executive administration and labor.

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) — previously the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee chair — would head the committee on transportation and the environment under Mendelson’s proposal. The Judiciary Committee, which includes public safety and oversight of the city’s elections, would be chaired by Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), but oversight of elections agencies including the Board of Elections and Office of Campaign Finance would shift to Bonds’s purview.

A detailed list of the proposed changes can be viewed here.

In January, the legislature will welcome two newcomers to the council. Community and education activist Matthew Frumin will take over the Ward 3 council seat held by longtime legislator Mary M. Cheh, who announced her plan to retire earlier this year. In Ward 5, Zachary Parker, who served on the D.C. State Board of Education, was elected to the council seat held by Kenyan R. McDuffie (D), who won an at-large seat after changing his party affiliation to independent.

On Tuesday, toward the end of the council’s final meeting of 2022, lawmakers took turns praising Cheh as well as departing council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who lost her reelection bid in November.


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