Following the D.C. City Council over the past few months has been like watching a group of politicians trying to outdo each other at grabbing headlines.
There are 13 members of the Council. Seven, including Chairman Phil Mendelson and six others — Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds, Kenyan McDuffie, Tommy Wells, Jim Graham and David Catania — all have their terms expire at the end of 2014. Bowser and Evans — whose terms don’t end until 2016 — along with Wells have announced they will run for mayor. Many of them have been talking about the “ethical cloud” hanging over the city and how it is impacting growth and forward movement but unfortunately it isn’t the “cloud” over the city but their response, or lack of response to it, that is the bigger problem.
During the last legislative session, you just had to look at some of the bills —micromanaging education, dealing with marijuana issues and smoking in parks and abandoning the election of an independent attorney general for at least four years — to see that they believe these are the things necessary to move us forward when clearly some of them are simply designed to grab a headline.
Then there is the “Living Wage” bill, which was apparently more of an attack on Walmart than a serious effort to raise the minimum wage for all workers in the District. It raised the minimum wage for some workers by 50 percent but would clearly impact comparatively few. I support raising the minimum wage for all workers but have never seen it done by 50 percent at one time or so selectively.
I think what happened on the way to passage of this bill is that Council members didn’t do their homework. They didn’t have a veto-proof majority and didn’t consider that the city is finally moving forward with economic development in parts of the District that haven’t seen it and the chilling effect this bill would have on that momentum. I don’t think those pushing this bill from outside the Council anticipated that nearly all the announced candidates for mayor were against it so that they didn’t have the leverage to threaten them with withholding support in next year’s election.
What the Council appears to have done over the past months is decide that since nearly all of them are running they would do everything they could to make sure incumbents continue to have a big advantage. They refused to deal with the campaign reform bill submitted by the mayor that would have ended so called pay-to-play. They passed no campaign reform while continuing to complain about the influence money has on government decisions. They continue to support “constituent service funds,” which can amount to incumbents having a cumulative $160,000 advantage over any challenger.
They refused to move the date of the primary from April 1, 2014 — April Fool’s Day — to a date in June that would give challengers at least a fair shot at communicating with voters. They would rather see the height of the campaign season be from December to March, which is the hardest time to reach voters. That April date also ensures a much smaller turnout than a June primary, again helping incumbents.
While in nearly all aspects the District is doing better than we ever have before there are still issues that need to be worked on. Let’s hope ethics won’t be the only thing candidates talk about. While clearly ethics are very important voters need to hear detailed proposals from candidates, not just vision statements, and they need to hear from incumbents what they want to do that they didn’t already have a chance to do.
The first thing the D.C. Council should do is step up to the plate and move the primary to June and they should do this at their first legislative session in the fall. I urge voters to write and call their Council members over their summer vacation and make their views on this and other issues known. If we want our Council to do better and do things differently, then we have to tell them what we want.