Even after backing Togo West, D.C. Council has work to do

Thursday, July 29, 2010

CREDIT MAYOR Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council for moving swiftly to shore up the District's Board of Elections and Ethics. The mayor's nomination of the esteemed Togo D. West Jr. to lead the board, likely to receive council approval Thursday, was a critically needed step as the agency heads into this year's primaries and general election. But there is still a problem with the board's makeup: Only one party -- the Democrats -- is represented. For the sake of fairness, council members need to stop stalling on Mr. Fenty's Republican nominee.

Council members will return Thursday from their summer recess to give expected approval to Mr. West, the former Army secretary nominated last week to fill the unexpected vacancy caused by Chairman Errol R. Arthur's impending retirement. There are, though, apparently no plans to take up Mr. Fenty's longstanding nomination of Mital Gandhi, a small-business owner who has been active in civic affairs and who -- unlike Mr. West and board member Charles R. Lowery Jr. -- is a registered Republican. By law, no more than two members of this independent, quasi-judicial body can be of the same political party.

Mr. Gandhi's name was first submitted in November, then again in April. A council committee headed by Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) voted to confirm him, but when its recommendation came up for a vote this month, council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) successfully moved to table it. If there are, as some suggest, legitimate issues with Mr. Gandhi's nomination, why not call the nomination and have an up-or-down vote? The council's inaction has created a situation in which the city is headed into a politically charged election season with imbalance on its board.

What makes the matter more worrisome is that the very politicians who helped create this situation are themselves on the ballot in September and November. The Federal Election Commission has a tradition of pairing its appointments so as to maintain partisan fairness; D.C. officials need to find their own solution lest they be accused of playing politics with this important board.

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