BY A. Cornelius Baker
The District of Columbia has now entered into an extraordinary period of political instability that threatens the positive direction of our city. Since the defeat of Mayor Vince Gray, we have now seen an unruly Council begin a silly round of political posturing on the priorities submitted for consideration in the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, the resignation of two senior officials with the expectation of more to come, and the deep uncertainty of the governance in our city for the next nine months. The April 1 primary election was indeed a joke on the citizens — but nobody should be laughing.
As the Blade has recorded, on March 27 I had the privilege of welcoming Mayor Gray to my home for a fundraiser in support of his campaign. More importantly than the money contributed that evening was the opportunity to belatedly thank the mayor for his many efforts to better the lives of LGBT people and the most marginalized in our city. It was a long overdue show of support. While the mayor has kept a steady hand on continuing the economic progress of the city, including bringing down unemployment, he has also paid attention to the smart ways that government can serve to improve the lives of transgender men and women, support the formerly incarcerated (or as he has designated ‘returning citizens’), and address the divide between rich and poor neighborhoods. These are issues I care about.
Unfortunately, the mayor and his administration got off to a slow start embroiled in amateurish political snafus that have contributed to the constant hounding to discredit him that we have seen over the past three years. And despite the many gains that have been accomplished, I must admit to being disappointed that the response to the HIV epidemic has not been led by more robust leadership with a bold vision to take advantage of the remarkable moment of scientific advancement that is at hand. That aside, as a member of the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable DC, I have seen his direct involvement in an initiative that represents remarkable foresight in transforming the city into a 21st century laboratory to promote the health of citizens and grow toward an innovative future — as opposed to being a quaint museum for the wealthy.
The allegations against the mayor and his associates in the last campaign continue to create an air of illegitimacy to his election. This has harmed the city in significant ways. First, it has prevented the mayor of the nation’s capital from being at the forefront of setting a progressive agenda that puts forward new ways of thinking about urban America. Second, the mayor’s record of inclusion and expanding the franchise of our democracy has gone unnoticed and the lives of the poor and marginalized have again been pushed to the sidelines. Lastly, the citizens have been dealt a bad hand that has resulted in a significant disengagement from a fundamental responsibility of citizenship with disturbingly low voter participation in the recent primary.
All of this brings us to the unfinished business of the election. After three years of investigation, the U.S. Attorney has produced a plea agreement with Jeffrey Thompson in exchange for a lenient sentence in admittance of violations in at least 25 federal and local campaigns, including illegal contributions to the mayor’s campaign. Ironically, the day after the primary, the Supreme Court ruled that Thompson’s actions are largely irrelevant to future campaigns as the wealthy can now invest with few limits to pursue their vision of our republic. In the meantime, despite his public statements of the mayor’s guilt and borderline smear campaign, the U.S. Attorney has not filed charges. This is not acceptable.
As a gay man, I have lived most of my life committing a crime through sex, or love, and just by being. I do not believe that government authority is absolute. We must be vigilant against its powers to harass and oppress its citizens. As a black gay man I am deeply familiar with how we can be easily marginalized and the multiple layers of discrimination in our lives. While I respect the rule of law, the rules and the law must also treat us fairly to earn our respect. The situation we have against the mayor — and by extension the aspirations of our city — is not just. The U.S. Attorney must charge the mayor now or shut up and leave him alone.
I do not have an opinion of the mayor’s guilt, only a presumption of innocence till proven otherwise. If convicted, then the mayor will have to decide to resign so that his good work may continue unfettered by scandal. If there are no charges or if he is found not guilty, then the voters must be allowed to decide how we want our city to go forward and under whose leadership, including Mayor Gray’s option to run as an independent before the June 30 filing deadline.
It is time we get to the unfinished business of the mayoral election.
A. Cornelius Baker is a Ward 1 resident.