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Togo West, elections board nominee, sails through D.C. Council hearing

"Mayor Fenty made an excellent choice" -- how often have you heard those words come out of Phil Mendelson's mouth in the last three years?

But Monday's confirmation hearing for emergency elections-board nominee Togo D. West Jr. gave the often-critical at-large council member a rare chance to laud the city's chief executive.

Same went for colleague Harry Thomas Jr., also a frequent Fenty foe. "It's not often that I have had the privilege to speak so highly of a mayoral nominee," Thomas said, starting a five-minute peroration lauding West, the former army secretary and veterans-affairs secretary.

And it wasn't just council members testifying to West's bona fides. Former mayor Sharon Pratt, a longtime friend who attended Howard University with West, testified in support. "Presidents and cabinet officials have repeatedly turned to Togo because he will not massage the facts, play with the truth, and the decisions he renders evidence thoughtfulness, thoroughness and integrity," she said.

Despite a few pointed questions about his relationship with Adrian Fenty and lightning-rod Attorney General Peter Nickles, West sailed through the relatively brief hearing. West's impeccable resume -- including 40-plus years of District residency -- allowed him to avoid the pitfalls faced by previous, less experienced Fenty nominees.

Under questioning from Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh, West described career of quiet public service, mostly on the federal and national levels. "I have not been a shadowy presence in District politics," he told the three members present. "I haven't been a presence at all."

West said he was approached about the job by a mayoral aide last week. "I was surprised and took time to think about it," he testified. He indicated he would accept, and the next day Fenty called to thank him. West contributed to Fenty's 2006 mayoral campaign and later served on a transition committee. But after that, he said, "my connection with the mayor essentially ended." Generally, West described a "frendly relationship but not a close relationship" with Hizzoner. "We don't go to parties together," he said. "We don't hang out."

He did say, however, that he'd been a longtime friend and sometime colleague of Nickles, dating back to their time together at Covington & Burling. West described Nickles as "a fine lawyer and a good friend" but said he would not let that color his judgment on the elections board.

"I've disagreed with Peter before," he said, "and I expect to do it again."

West dispelled concerns about his activities with the Greater Washington Board of Trade, which has endorsed Fenty for re-election, explaining that he'd been less active with the group in recent years and has not contributed money to the organization's political action committee. Cheh also raised West's service on the Defense Health Board, a Pentagon-affiliated policy advisory committee, noting that elections-board members are barred from holding other government positions; West said he'd resign if need be.

As for the job West would have to do if confirmed, members questioned West on the multitude of electoral innovations on tap this year -- including no-fault early voting and same-day registration. West deemed them "worthy changes" and said his first priority would be to "provide access to the ballot to as many people as possible."

And with only 50 days until the Sept. 14 primary, West said he'd suspend his busy travel schedule to make sure everything is in order. "I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I'll be right here."

A final vote on West's nomination is likely to come Thursday, Cheh said.

By Mike DeBonis  |  July 26, 2010; 6:02 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District  
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Good luck to Mr. West. I fervently hope everything runs smoothly - and honestly - in the upcoming elections.

And, Mr. D, I am chuckling at your description of "lightning-rod AG Peter Nickles". A master stroke of understatement! One of Fenty's campaign bigwigs was quoted (anonymously, of course) a couple of weeks ago, in another local publication, describing Nickles as "a loaded, unholstered weapon". Alas, I must agree.

Posted by: nan_lynn | July 27, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

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