December 12, 2012

ANITA BONDS is unapologetic about the selection process that netted her an appointment to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. “Quite honestly, we have this authority. . . . You use it or you lose it,” she said of the D.C. Charter provision that vests activists of the city’s majority political party with the power to fill at-large council vacancies. No doubt her position as head of the D.C. Democratic State Committee worked to her advantage.

But a selection process that bypasses the public and places a premium on political connections and party loyalty is not to the advantage of D.C. residents. It’s time to change this anachronistic and undemocratic system.

Ms. Bonds, who was sworn into office Tuesday, easily won appointment from the D.C. State Democratic Committee to the seat left vacant in November, when Phil Mendelson (D) was elevated to chairman. She received 55 votes from the 71 activists who gathered for Monday’s party gathering. A special election to fill out the remainder of Mr. Mendelson’s term will be held April 23, and Ms. Bonds said she will be a candidate.

Aside from conferring the advantages of incumbency on Ms. Bonds, it’s hard to discern the benefits of this temporary appointment. Our beef is not specific to Ms. Bonds; we expressed similar concerns in 2011 when the committee filled an at-large vacancy with Sekou Biddle. She told us she will work hard and do her best.

It probably wasn’t the best idea for Ms. Bonds, an executive with major city contractor Fort Myer Construction, to highlight in a Wednesday interview with NewsChannel 8the need for more street repairs. And, as Mr. Mendelson wondered, is it really a good idea for her to cast votes in the upcoming session when she wasn’t involved in the legislative process? Is it the best use of District resources to outfit a new council office when there’s a possibility of turnover in four months? And, with that special election likely to attract a crowded field (Republican Patrick Mara was the latest to announce his candidacy), how much time will be spent governing as opposed to campaigning?

A short-term vacancy on a body with 12 other members (three of whom are at-large) doesn’t strike us as particularly disabling. Indeed, when a vacancy occurs for ward seats — offices that tend to provide more critical constituent-level services — there are no provisions for temporary appointments. The rule instead is for a swift special election that allows voters, not partisan insiders, to select the best representative after open and full debate.