Nine of the 13 members of the D.C. Council are either running for mayor or re-election to the Council. Another Council member is contemplating a mayoral run and will most likely seek re-election to his seat if he does not run for mayor. With all but three current Council members vying for office this year, it’s hard to be optimistic that Council members are legislating in the best interests of the city versus the best interests of their respective campaigns. Council members Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and David Grosso (I-At Large) are the only members not currently seeking election.
Over the next three months, don’t be surprised to see an inordinate amount of grandstanding and petty bickering on the dais. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with seeking higher office or running for re-election, but when the overwhelming majority of any body is running for election at the same time, it is going to impact daily operations.
It will be much more difficult for constituents to meet with Council members, as most of them will be on the campaign trail when the Council is not in session. However, on the plus side, constituents should have no problem finding their local Council member in the community.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think any individual sitting member seeking higher office or re-election has any more effect on legislative operations than the mayor seeking re-election, but I’m focusing on the Council because it creates a unique dynamic when, essentially, the entire body is running for election at the same time.
The D.C. Home Rule Act stipulates that Council terms are staggered, so only half of the Council is up for re-election at one time. The general reason for staggered terms is to ensure that the legislature maintains some continuity and there is not a complete overhaul in any given election year. Another consequence of staggered terms, however, is that usually the Council members who are not up for re-election are able to solely focus on their Council duties, so there is no noticeable impact on legislative functions and constituent services. That clearly is not the case this year.
Of course, the other side is that residents may get better services since most of the Council members are aiming to please voters. This may work for constituent services, but it does not usually work for legislation. Every decision made early this year will be a calculated political decision. Do not expect too many members to vote for or against legislation based on their conscience.
We, the residents of the District, need to be the watchdogs to ensure that the decisions made are in our best interest. We need to continue to advocate for our respective causes and continue to hold our elected officials accountable. No one should get a pass because they are campaigning. It may be difficult to meet with Council members in their offices during election season, but if need be, we should meet with staffers and push for our goals, just as we would any other year. We are truly the only ones who can make sure that our elected officials are placing our interests above their own.
Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political and LGBT activist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.