Seeking to pivot from a year of ethical crises, the D.C. Council opened a new session Wednesday with assurances that its conduct would again be a focus as legislators tackle other policy questions.

"Citizens expect us to be the best," said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. "Citizens have the right to hold us to basic standards, standards of trust, honesty and integrity."

At-large Councilman David Grosso, the only new legislator to take the oath of office Wednesday, said residents were frustrated by the outbreak of investigations and convictions.

"I'm standing here today because 80,000 residents in all eight wards spoke with one voice in favor of reform," Grosso said. "We all know we can do better."

Michael Brown starts new campaign
Former D.C. Councilman Michael Brown took the first step Wednesday toward a political comeback and a run for an at-large council seat.
Brown, whose term ended Wednesday after his defeat in November, picked up nominating petitions and began gathering signatures to try to secure a spot on the April 23 special election ballot.
Thirteen other candidates also have collected petitions, and candidates must secure 3,000 signatures by Jan. 23 to appear on the ballot.

And Grosso cautioned his new colleagues that District residents were watching their behavior closely.

"Our residents know more about what we do than we think," he said. "It is important for council members to remember voters more than contributors."

Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser acknowledged residents' discomfort with the John A. Wilson Building's leaders, most of whom last year witnessed two lawmakers resign from city politics and plead guilty to crimes.

"We can't pretend today that we haven't let our people down," Bowser said. "Too many of our people think we're moving in the wrong direction."

The renewed calls for a cleaner District government came weeks after lawmakers came under blistering criticism for adjourning without taking a vote on campaign finance reform legislation, a proposal that died in the committee that Bowser chaired at the time.

Mayor Vincent Gray urged lawmakers Wednesday to consider the slate of changes he proposed, including limits on donations from city contractors, and said he would immediately resubmit his plan.

"It really should have been acted on in the last session," said Gray, whose 2010 campaign is the subject of a federal probe. "We need broad reform."

But at-large Councilman Vincent Orange worried the council's biennial shift in committee leadership would slow momentum toward reform.

"I don't see the movement that we had before," Orange said. "It looks now as if we'll start from ground zero."

Mendelson, who said that "there are reforms we can and should enact," said he didn't believe the new committee assignments would decrease the speed of reform legislation.