Free Betty Noel! Council Stop Dithering

The D.C. Council seems to be setting a world’s record deliberating on one of the finest candidates ever nominated for a high Executive Branch position by any mayor of this city: Mayor Vincent Gray’s nomination of Elizabeth Noel for a seat on the D.C. Public Service Commission.

One might think from this delay that Ms. Noel was unknown, or that the Council has amnesia. Have they forgotten that Ms. Noel served brilliantly as District People’s Counsel for over twenty-five years? That her superbly gifted legal talent was used for the betterment of all the citizens of this city? That she kept giant utilities like Pepco honest, kept utility rates under control, and made residential affordability possible through painstaking, fair rate-setting. That she tamed the rapacity of giant corporations whose lust for profit is in league with Big Bank USA and Wall Street, whose greed has generated protest in every corner in this land, not least in Freedom Plaza within earshot and in full view of the Council itself? Can the Council turn a blind-eye and a deaf ear to those who would turn this entire city into an instant Georgetown, or a Boca Raton, Palm Springs, East Hampton, or Martha’s Vineyard? Elizabeth Noel understands the need to keep this city affordable, and the key role utility rates play in achieving that goal. So do we the people and that is why the vast majority of us -- D.C. tenants, labor, and home-owners favor her appointment.

Still the Council dithers, toying with red-herring charges of “conflict of interest” and “recusal” difficulties, never mind that a blue-ribbon panel and the attorney general find no such conflict or impediment to her service. Let us bluntly face this issue and let the chips fall where they may. Ms. Noel is opposed by Pepco because they fear her impartiality and threat to their unbridled greed, and their windfall profits of almost a billion dollars over the last couple of years. Her Board of Trade opponents believe that “market rate” should be the “prevailing rate” at all times, never mind that the market has become a casino and the marketers are breaking the Bank at Monte Carlo. Entrenched interests fear that Ms. Noel’s vigor and talent will revitalize a moribund agency like the PSC and threaten their preferred status quo. Still others bow to opposition by the Washington Post, a great but diminished newspaper, whose “Father knows best” stentorian tone in political endorsements has the faint offensive whiff of the “plantation,” which is probably why almost all of their political endorsements lost in the last election, and most of those endorsed by tenants, labor, and others won. We say the Council needs to free Betty Noel now and favorably vote for her confirmation. What do you say?

Jim McGrath

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