IN AN EFFORT to avoid political manipulation, the home-rule charter stipulated that local elected officials whose terms were not up could not run for an other office - unless they first resigned the office they held. In other words, all of the members of the school board and half of the city council would have to relinquish their office to run for something else - chairman of the council, for instance, or mayor. The law was meant to discourage individuals from abusing the electoral process. But it also could cause unnecessary political confusion and disruption in the city in the months ahead.
Because of this, the city council attempted to develop legislation allowing elected officials to run for office without first giving up their seats. But the general counsel of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that the council could not enact such legislation because it constituted a conflict of interest: The outcome of the legislation would directly affect the council members themselves. This ruling might not withstand a court test. But it is clear that public reaction to the matter is mixed - perhaps because the forthcoming election is likely to involve candidate who would be in danger of losing their council or school board seats by running for another office.
What could happen if a council member whose term had not expired sought office this year? For one thing, the ward that member represents would not have a voice on the council until the board of elections set a date for a special election. Depending on the number of officials that announced their candidacy, it would be possible to have a special election every few weeks between now and the September primary. To make matters worse, there is still no agreement on just when a candidate must forfeit his position: Is it when he has organized a campaign finance committee? Or when his petitions for candidacy are validated by the board of elections?
What all this means is that local residents can look forward to a great deal of confusion in the coming months unless this piece of the home-rule charter is straightened out. Council member Marion Barry has already announced his candidacy for mayor - and has filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of the charter's limitation on who may run for office. Other elected officials are waiting for some type of resolution of this question before making their political intentions known. It strikes us that the only way to sort out the matter before the campaigns get into full swing is for Congress to propose and quickly pass legislation that would eliminate the penalty for running for office. That way, Congress can provide the city with what it should have had from the beginning: a reasonable and fair method for holding local elections.