At-large D.C. Councilman Kwame Brown may have had a tough time last week, after news broke about his personal financial woes: three separate lawsuits surrounding $50,000 in credit card bills and a total debt of $700,000. Still, his council colleagues didn't pull their endorsements.

There's a reason the majority of the council want Brown as their next chairman. It isn't just that opponent Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 councilman, has been on the outside for the past three years. Brown -- the man, who posted at polls life-size portraits of himself and presidential candidate Barack "Change-we-can-believe-in" Obama -- has promised more of the same. No changes to committee structures and no changes to council rules.

Orange has pledged to shake things up: Every member won't get a committee; they will be subjected to additional training; and there will be changes to the Office of Policy Analysis (a creation of current Chairman Vincent C. Gray that has had little effect on the quality of the council's public policy work.)

Essentially, Orange has cast himself as the mechanic for the poorly functioning legislative branch. Last week, he released a 16-page plan outlining his vision for the city, including a greater emphasis on enforcing existing laws.

To be fair, Brown also has pledged to "enhance the council's policy analysis operations" to tour communities and increase affordable housing while focusing on public safety, job training, and economic development.

But is his pledge to continue existing council operations good for District residents?

The current legislature, which thinks highly of itself, is perhaps one of the worst in the city's history -- despite the high approval rating it has received and Gray has touted on the campaign trail.

Sure, it has used technology to bring residents inside the operations of the legislative branch. But it has been lousy at ensuring laws are enforced. Rather than use the legislature's equal powers, council members often whined as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration flexed its muscles or deliberately circumvented the rules.

When there have been problems, including concerns about cronyism and mismanagement, the council has engaged in knee-jerked responses, starting investigations where sophisticated and rigorous oversight would have been sufficient.

Additionally, it has delayed probes into charges its own members violated local laws. And a promise of enhanced ethics rules and sanctions was never fully realized.

Equally troublesome has been the council's encroachment on executive branch territory. And, when council members weren't behaving as mini-mayors, they morphed into nannies, stripping citizens of their rights and responsibilities.

During candidates forums, Orange has seemed to better understand these problems. Brown, on the other hand, has spent an inordinate amount of time discussing issues that are in the mayor's purview.

But, if the legislative branch is to be equal to the executive, its next leader must be focused on strengthening its operation, establishing a coherent and collective public policy and fiscal agenda, and implementing strong ethical standards and sanctions.

Jonetta rose barras can be reached at