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Q&A With D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh

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D.C. Council member Mary Cheh at the council dais in January.
Mallory Noe-Payne
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh at the council dais in January.

The D.C. Council is under new leadership after Chairman Kwame Brown resigned last week and pleaded guilty to bank fraud and campaign finance charges. The council selected at-large Council member Phil Mendelson as its interim chairman on Wednesday, but not without a contentious debate over who would serve as Mendelson's pro tempore that got bizarre and heated at times. Mendelson will serve until a special election is held in November.

Council member Mary Cheh served as an acting chair through this week's transition and supported Mendelson as interim chair and Michael Brown as chairman pro tempore. She talks with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about why this weeks' council debate turned ugly, what lies ahead for the council and the city. Listen to the full interview.

On why the debate over interim chairman and chairman pro tempore got so emotional this week: "I think it was a reflection of the generally tumult time," Cheh says. "So the backdrop of this was very tense and emotional. then you had a debate between two people, one of whom was quite histrionic,  so that created a pretty raucous atmosphere."

Why she supported Michael Brown for interim pro tempore, even though he has also been convicted of campaign finance violations: "There's the expression, 'you have to play the cards you're dealt,'" Cheh says. "If we had voted for Vincent Orange, you would have had this very potent contentious situation with both Mr. Orange and Mr. Mendelson vying in the special election for the chairman's seat. So they'd be sitting together, supposedly working together, but perhaps working at odds and undercutting each other. 

On Marion Barry's comment that D.C. is the "laughingstock" of the nation: "I think he's overstating it. I don't think we're a laughingstock," Cheh said. "It's something like a perfect storm in the sense that a number of people have fallen, if you will, at the same time. But I think we showed some wisdom even in electing Phil Mendelson as our chair. He's not flashy, in fact, he's the antithesis of flashy. People feel comfortable that he'll put us back on a steady course."

Whether she expects more public officials to "fall," as she says, before the investigations are over: "The U.S. Attorney's Office has not indicated it's ended its investigation. There may be some other matters at hand … and further matters to come with respect to a major contributor whose home was raided by the FBI, and we don't know what the consequences of that will be." 

On her quote in Bloomberg Businessweek this week saying "The whole government is going to fall" if any more D.C. elected officials were indicted: "I think that was a little offhand, on my part," Cheh says. "It could be a very devastating thing however if the mayor is now indicted or charged with something. That could be quite serious. "But I'm confident that the rest of us can hang together and pull through." 

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