June 19, 2013 | by Peter Rosenstein
Campaign season begins early in D.C.

Campaign season has begun in D.C. We don’t even know when the primary will be since Council Chair Phil Mendelson has indicated that he wants to introduce legislation to move it from its current date of April 1, 2014. I support that move to either June or September. April Fool’s Day is certainly the wrong time for a primary in D.C. as one can just hear the late night comedians enjoying that one.

We have three announced candidates for mayor including Council members Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans. There are others indicating a predilection to run including Council member David Catania, Mayor Vincent Gray and former City Administrator and School Board President Robert Bobb. Then there are Council seats and the newly elected Attorney General position up for grabs.

Catania would have a hard time as an independent and couldn’t run in the Democratic primary unless he gives up his seat and switches party affiliation. Despite saying he hasn’t thought much about it, he said to Kojo Nnamdi that Mayor Gray should have resigned last year and when questioned by Bruce DePuyt on NewsTalk suggested it would be great if independents could go to the polls on primary day and exert their influence and vote in whichever primary, Democratic or Republican, they wanted. DePuyt should have followed up asking if he also favors abolishing those non-Democratic seats, one of which is his, on the Council.

The first question each reporter and constituent should ask candidates for office is whether they support the legislation sent to the Council by Mayor Gray and Attorney General Nathan last year that would bring about stringent campaign reform. Then ask if they support abolishing the so-called Constituent Service Funds, more appropriately called “slush” funds. Unless candidates agree to support the legislation and abolish the funds voters should question anything they say about changing the ethical practices of elected officials.

The statement, “I intend to be a more ethical candidate and elected official and bring transparency to government” flows off the tongue too easily. We hear from some on the Council and many recent candidates that the ethical lapses we have seen in the past few years have kept the city from moving forward. None have answered the question as to how the indictments stopped our city from moving forward or what they want to do to improve the city that they can’t because of the ethical questions.

The reality, whether we like it or not, is there isn’t a government in the world that can claim no unethical or cheating politicians. Governments are made up of people and not all people are honest or ethical even as we voters try to choose the ones who are. While we bemoan what is happening in the District, let’s not beat ourselves up too much thinking we are the only ones not choosing correctly. On June 15, the New York Brooklyn Eagle reported, “Albany has seen 32 state level officials ensnared in corruption cases in the past seven years.” That is only on the state level and doesn’t count the numerous others in cities and towns across the state including New York City.

That in no way absolves us from trying to do better and make better choices, but like New York the failures of some of our politicians hasn’t stopped the District from moving forward. We must recognize that while we clean up our government we are making incredible progress. Our City is booming and people continue to move here by the thousands. They like our city, despite the shortcomings of those like Marion Barry, Kwame and Michael Brown and Harry Thomas Jr.

I, like others, have proposed making our Council a full-time job to avoid conflicts of interest occurring when Council members have other jobs. Candidates must do more than say they want to clean up government but actually give voters a detailed list of bills they will introduce and changes they will fight for if they are elected. If they say that poor ethics have kept our city from moving forward they need to outline for us what was kept from being done. They can’t say as some do that Congress would have given us budget autonomy as Congress is clearly no bastion of virtue themselves.

We can and must do better but a year of slurs and misleading easy attacks against each other by the plethora of candidates surely won’t help us get there.

2 Comments
  • Stephen P. Gorman

    I would eliminate the At Large seats and turn the council into 13 Ward seats. It would make the wards smaller which would make it cheaper for challengers to run for office. After all, all this corruption is rooted in the need for funds.

    • This was the perennial debate in SF, as we shifted back and forth between city-wide and district. Harvey Milk emerged when we switched back to district representation.

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