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Tommy Wells Loses Powerful Transportation Committee Post

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 Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells talks on his cell phone outside the D.C. Council room after Council Chair Kwame Brown announced he'd be shifting the leadership of the council's committees.
Patrick Madden
Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells talks on his cell phone outside the D.C. Council room after Council Chair Kwame Brown announced he'd be shifting the leadership of the council's committees.

Now some are wondering if the last minute shake-up has to do with policy or political payback.

Six months after Council member Tommy Wells was awarded the chairmanship of the Committee on Transportation and Public Works, Chairman Kwame Brown took it away.

Brown surprised many Tuesday morning by proposing changes to the leadership of several of the council's committees, as well as a reorganization of those committees.

Wells had lobbied hard for the transportation post, and served as a Metro Board member. He seemed blindsided by the decision Tuesday.

"I don't know why. I'm baffled," Wells repeatedly told reporters.

Brown says he wants to consolidate committees of similar interests. Tuesday's move reshapes several portfolios, including his own -- which now includes the powerful economic development committee.

The economic development post was left open after Council member Harry Thomas Jr. stepped down last month after allegations that he misused $300,000 in public funds.

Instead of transportation and public works, Wells will now oversee planning, parks and recreation.

The move stunned many at the Wilson Building.

"I don't know what the rationale was but it just seems unsettling to us," said Barbara Lang, head of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters of Wells, including the website Greater Greater Washington, say the real reason for the shake-up dates back to February. That's when Wells and the transportation committee released a report PDF critical of Brown for leasing the "fully-loaded" SUVs.

Brown denies the reshuffling was political payback for the report.

"I think he did a phenomenal job," Brown said, referring to the committee report on SUVs. "Council Member Wells is a great friend and I think he's done some phenomenal work down here."

Wells wouldn’t speculate as to why he was moved, but remembers a very different reaction to the SUV report.

"We all know the chair was not happy with that report," Wells said. "We did do a very thorough job on the report."

It was thorough, but also very embarrassing for Chairman Brown. If you believe some, it turned out to be very costly for Wells, who was the only member to speak out against the changes.

"Mr. Chair, I am going to object today," Wells stated during Tuesday's legislative session. "I am going to object on this highly unusual action by the chair."

The council approved those changes by a vote of 12-1 Tuesday afternoon.

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