Media outlets in the District should hang their heads in shame because of the lack of coverage of the race for the newly created position of an independent attorney general. It has always been my understanding that these outlets are required to provide a certain amount of time for public service information to the residents of the areas in which they exist. It is embarrassing that in the District of Columbia not one TV station is giving time to hold a debate allowing the public to hear from the five candidates running for this newly independent position. Recently reporters from the local affiliates of NBC and CBS have told me their stations won’t host a debate and a reporter from ABC’s News Channel 8 said it is unlikely it would.
There was coverage of the D.C. Council’s misguided effort to delay this election and then the legal fight that culminated in this office actually being on the ballot Nov. 4. But now that the election will take place in less than seven weeks and early voting will begin in about four, they are shirking their responsibility to the voters by not giving any coverage to this election. There are five candidates running and each has a different background. They are: Lorie Masters, Karl Racine, Edward “Smitty” Smith, Lateefah Williams and Paul Zuckerberg.
Most voters in the District don’t even know what the newly independent office of attorney general will be responsible for. Some believe the office will handle criminal cases when those will still remain the purview of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. The new independent AG will be the people’s lawyer in civil cases and involved in determining if the Council, the mayor and agencies are carrying out our laws. It seems clear the office will have a much-reduced staff from what currently exists in the AG’s office but the person we elect will still be managing what is estimated to be the equivalent of a 100-person law firm.
Another key element of the office is that it will provide the person elected a platform to speak out on any issue they choose. They will have the opportunity to make headlines and draw attention to issues they deem important to residents of the District. Unlike the members of the D.C. Council they won’t have to compete for attention with 12 others. In the right hands this office could be an important and powerful position with the potential to be a springboard to running for mayor in the future.
Knowing all this it is unconscionable that the media in this town, except for a few like Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post, won’t give attention to this election. I have met only three of the candidates. One with a very impressive background is Karl Racine. He was the first African American to be a managing partner at a top-100 law firm. His experience includes managing more than 600 lawyers and a budget of $350 million. He has served in the D.C. Public Defender Service and as Associate White House Counsel for President Clinton. Another candidate, Lateefah Williams, who happens to be openly lesbian and a fellow Blade columnist, is also an impressive individual with a very different background having spent much of her legal career in the role of community activist. It is important that voters hear them and the other candidates and listen as they debate why they would be the best to serve in this new and extremely important position.
A recent Washington Post poll shows that nearly 60 percent of the voters are undecided in this race and it’s clearly because they don’t know the candidates. Many in the media like to write about why there are such small turnouts for our elections. They lament these low turnouts and try to assign some kind of blame. Instead of debating why people don’t vote, the media should spend more time informing people about the candidates that are running and offer time for them to debate the issues and share their views with the voters.