“HOW DO WE get out of all this? Lord if I know.” That plaintive soliloquy from a member of the D.C. Council pretty much sums up the anxieties facing city lawmakers as they return this week from summer recess. Ethical troubles continue to dog the D.C. government, and that will make it hard to get on with the city’s business.
The D.C. Council faces unprecedented questions about the behavior of some of its members. Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) are the subjects of separate federal probes into alleged wrongdoing; the board of elections found irregularities with tens of thousands of dollars in Mr. Brown’s 2008 council campaign while Mr. Thomas settled, by agreeing to repay $300,000, city claims that he looted the city treasury for his own benefit. Questions about how at-large member Michael A. Brown (I) engineered the legalization of online gaming while in the employ of a firm that represents gambling interests prompted calls for a fuller examination of the issue by the city’s inspector general. And revelations of council members using their constituent service accounts to fund robo-calls, buy sports tickets and help out political organizations only added to the general unease about the conduct of those who are supposed to serve the public.
Unfortunately, no one seems to be in a position to offer leadership in this critical area. Even if Mr. Brown were not a subject of interest to federal authorities, it would be hard to take seriously guidance from someone whose desire for a posh city car ended up wasting, as the Washington City Paper’s Loose Lips column recently reported, more than $20,000 in taxpayer money.
Some council members — Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and David Catania (I-At Large) — have called on Mr. Thomas to resign. A majority of the 13-member council hasn’t had the courage or sense to follow suit, even after Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan released evidence of how Mr. Thomas used his office to divert city monies intended for youth to his own political and personal purposes.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) also has, very noticeably, not weighed in. Perhaps, as some have suggested, he doesn’t want to intrude on council prerogatives. His friendship with Mr. Thomas may be a factor, as may be the reality that Mr. Gray faces his own scrutiny from federal prosecutors investigating former mayor candidate Sulaimon Brown’s allegations of impropriety by the mayor’s campaign and administration.
Ethics reform is supposedly going to be high on the list of the council’s priorities this fall. Given the failure of the city’s leaders to speak out against wrongdoing, it’s hard to be optimistic.