Council Chairman Phil Mendelson

Muriel Bowser antagonist Kenyan McDuffie faced a showdown today with the mayor’s allies at his D.C. Council committee. Fortunately for the Ward 5 councilmember, he brought backup.

Bowser’s feud with McDuffie over her crime package’s status has simmered for months, culminating in a mayoral tour of the city earlier this month to call on McDuffie’s judiciary committee to consider the legislation. Today’s mark-up hearing potentially represented Bowser’s chance to get her legislation through—-and ultimately, many of the most controversial aspects were ditched by the committee.

Many proposals from Bowser, including increased powers for police to search violent offenders on probation and the ability to hold violent offenders for up to 72 hours for minor violations, won’t make it through McDuffie’s committee for a full Council vote.

But when Ward 2 Councilmember (and new Metro board chairman) Jack Evans tried to reinstate Bowser’s plan to increase penalties for violent crimes on public transit or in parks or recreation centers, the fireworks really started.

That’s because McDuffie’s five-member committee would, in its usual make-up, have passed the Evans amendment favored by the mayor. But because Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, not usually a member of the judiciary committee, exercised his power to vote on it, the amendment failed, 3-3.

Opponents of the increased transit penalty, like Mendelson and McDuffie, argued that added prison time wouldn’t discourage crimes.

“This is really a step backwards in terms of enlightened criminology,” Mendelson said.

The amendment ultimately failed, with Bowser-aligned councilmembers Evans, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, and Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May voting in favor and McDuffie, Mendelson, and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh voting against.

Evans complained about Mendelson exercising his ability to vote on the committee legislation.

“I’d just like to register an objection to the chairman of the city Council voting on this,” Evans said.

McDuffie shot back that, as the Council’s longest-serving member, Evans can’t be surprised that the chairman can vote in committees.

“I take issue with him taking this opportunity to highlight it,” McDuffie said.

In a statement, Bowser spokesman Michael Czin says Bowser will keep pushing her crime package. McDuffie, Czin writes in an email,”failed to include any provisions to combat crime.”

As it turned out, Mendelson had a busy day voting on the judiciary committee. Later in the meeting, Mendelson quashed an effort to stop a measure that would keep marijuana clubs illegal.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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