April 1, 2012

TUESDAY’S PRIMARY — along with a special election next month — gives District voters the chance to do something about the discredited D.C. Council. The primary will determine the all-important nominees for five council seats, while the May 15 special election will determine who fills out the term of disgraced former Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas Jr. That’s nearly half of the 13-member body; residents who say that they are fed up with the ethical lapses and ineffective representation that have become far too common in the Wilson Building should not hesitate to vote for a change in leadership.

The good news is that there are well-qualified candidates in every primary race.

Of the five incumbents whose terms are up this year, one, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), is running unopposed in the primary, while Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), whose time in office has been marked by diligence and integrity, deserves reelection.

The same cannot be said for the other three incumbents — Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) and Marion Barry (Ward 8) and Vincent B. Orange (At Large) — vying in the Democratic primary. Each has had ethical issues: Ms. Alexander’s use of her constituent-service account, Mr. Barry’s serial indiscretions and Mr. Orange’s questionable campaign contributions in what may be a still-unfolding scandal. The records of these incumbents — Ms. Alexander’s and Mr. Barry’s ineffective representation of their wards and Mr. Orange’s grandstanding approach to legislating — do not sustain any argument for their return to office, particularly when there are such strong alternatives.

Sekou Biddle, the former school board and council member whom we have endorsed (contrary to the misleading impression left by an outdated image posted on Mr. Orange’s campaign Web site), has a record of public service, an expertise in education and a thoughtful approach to the city’s pressing problems. He has run an energetic campaign grounded on the bracing need for integrity in government.

Tom Brown, the standout in a crowded field of challengers to Ms. Alexander, is acutely equipped to represent Ward 7 residents. Not only does he have a keen understanding of the needs of Southeast residents, but he also has a record of success as an educator, entrepreneur and community leader. So impressive has his work been in job training that Mr. Brown has attracted the support of both labor and business leaders.

There are signs that Ward 8 residents finally may be wearying of Mr. Barry. He was unable to garner enough support to get the endorsement of the Ward 8 Democratic Committee, and the group’s chairwoman gave her personal endorsement to Jacque D. Patterson. “It is time for us to stop looking back on what was done many years ago and start looking to our future,” the Rev. Joyce Scott wrote in a statement, “It’s time to put in place a new face . . . as the image of the Ward, one we can all respect.” Mr. Patterson’s roots in the community, government experience and smart ideas about economic development offer the promise of energetic, new leadership.

About the only thing Ms. Alexander, Mr. Barry and Mr. Orange have going for them in their reelection bids is a crowded field of challengers that could split voter dissatisfaction in a way that gives them a plurality of the votes. If D.C. voters want real change in their government, they should choose wisely on Tuesday.