In D.C., a sense of entitlement fuels fully loaded political scandal

Petula Dvorak
Columnist June 7, 2012

It’s not easy to keep all the D.C. scandals straight these days. It’s almost as confusing as the city leaf-collection schedule.

Can we start posting signs in each ward explaining all this?

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“Welcome to Ward 5. Council member stole from kids.”

“Welcome to Ward 1. Aide took taxi bribes.”

“Welcome to Ward 8 . . .” Oh, there’s no billboard big enough for the transgressions and indulgences here.

And given the latest news — bank-fraud charges against ex-D.C. Council chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and a continuing investigation into Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) — we would need an archway worthy of Reno’s downtown: “Most Corrupt Little City in the World.”

Yes, there are perks when you get elected.

You get a special title, you get a car, you get to park anywhere in the city while the rest of us are circling and circling or huffing it on Metro.

You get invited to cut ribbons and attend VIP events. You get to appear on TV and in newspapers. You get applauded for just showing up to stuff.

Really, that should be enough for the average narcissist.

The fact is, you city pols are not CEOs, music moguls or ballers. You don’t get to live like them. There is nothing sexy about the D.C. Council, so stop trying to make it like that.

The job you campaigned for doesn’t get you exotic shoes, fully loaded cars, over-the-top golf trips or fancy boats. It doesn’t mean you get to hire your friends, their kids or your girlfriend.

When disgraced former council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D) — who is soon to be known by his Federal Bureau of Prisons number — stood before a judge for his sentencing last month, he explained that his crimes were born of a “sense of entitlement.”

He believed that he was entitled to take more than $350,000 that was supposed to go to kids’ programs and use it to get cool shoes, a luxury sport-utility vehicle and fancy trips.

It was the worst case of cookie-grubbing corruption the District has seen.

The Kwame Brown iceberg broke the surface when he ordered that “fully loaded” luxury SUV, specifying the rims and the moon roof and interior color. Seriously? How can he have time to think of those details, let alone demand that taxpayers lease him a second one to make sure the details are right.

That signaled trouble right there. I know consultants who were frustrated when they were hired to “brand” Brown and he wanted to talk about the stylings of commercials (music mogul fantasy) rather than come up with a substantive message of what he stood for in the city.

If committing bank fraud to get a powerboat he christened “Bullet Proof” was the basis for his plea agreement, imagine the other junk we would have heard about from prosecutors had he gone to trial.

What do these two disgraced politicians have in common?

Both come from political families.

Thomas, 51, pleaded guilty to two felonies early this year right after resigning the Ward 5 council seat that he held for five years, the same seat his father had held for 12 years.

And Brown, 41, resigned from the council this week. His father, Marshall Brown, has been a player on D.C. campaigns for four decades and predicted that his son would be mayor one day.

Mayor of Cellblock D, maybe.

These two men were part of fledgling political dynasties, and perhaps their princeliness fed their sense of entitlement.

Now they’re toast. Voters in Ward 8 may continue to forgive D.C.’s Mayor for Life for his buffet of flaws, giving Marion Barry (D) chance after chance to remind us how far we’ve come. But the District is not the city it once was, when we so easily excused bad behavior.

We are a thriving metropolis that is consistently ranked high as a place where people want to live and work.

And we deserve better than a bunch of entitled princes more interested in boats, cars and shoes than the people they are supposed to serve.

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