Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a contributing writer for The Root DC. She is also author of Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam (Harper) and Do Me Twice: My Life After Islam (Simon and Schuster).
I want a “Do-Right” man — like Wayne Curry, former county executive in Prince George’s County, or Ike Leggett, county executive, currently presiding in Montgomery County. They are highly intelligent, affable, and brilliant on the spot. Most important, they did not embarrass us once we placed them atop the public pedestal.
My heart goes out to the families, friends, and staff of our recently charged former council chairman Kwame Brown (D) and recently convicted former council member Harry Thomas, Jr. (D). I have high hopes for their rehabilitation and for the restoration of the image of my hometown.
“We need a new definition of black leadership. When did black become synonymous with riff-raff? This is embarrassing,” said one of my dear friends, a former Chicago political adviser.
I think I understand what leads some to poor judgment. Some of us get dust and twisters in our moral compass over the years. Some of us have faulty beliefs that wind us wayward, take us off track. Some believe that “The Man,” has taken so much from “us” for so long that taking back a little something from “them” whenever and however we can is just a balancing act.
To some, it seems that corruption is the way of the world, the way it’s always been.
Before Brown resigned this week, facing criminal charges, I talked with a long-time political insider I respect.
“It’s kind of sad to see what’s going on with our black leaders,” I said. “It’s like they’re doing the same things that have always been done, but they’re getting caught. It was okay when ‘they’ were doing it, but now that it’s us, the spotlight’s on.”
She shook her head gently, and offered her usual comforting smile. This is not the way it’s always been done, she assured me. When she was in office the leadership she served with was too afraid of getting caught to wander far off. She and some of the others simply never were presented with the temptation. I needed that moment of clarity, that bit of wisdom.
Of course, this malady of moral ineptness is color blind. I currently live in Anne Arundel, where our county executive, John R. Leopold, recently was charged with criminal misappropriation. He has been accused of, among other things, using police officers to cover for him during moments of sexual indiscretion on public parking lots, using police to keep his girlfriends separate. Seriously?
One gentleman I talked to was sympathetic toward Brown in particular. He says Brown completed the bank loan applications the way so many others have. “It’s called a Liar’s Loan. The industry called them no-doc loans, no documentation on your income,” said Eric Cloud, a retired real estate agent in D.C. “Everybody inflated their income. That’s one of the reasons why the housing market collapsed. The banks, and mortgage companies knew borrowers were inflating or providing false information about their income, but they closed their eyes to it because they were more interested in generating fees and bundling mortgages to sell on the derivative market.” He was less sympathetic toward Thomas.
The Anne Arundel electorate continued to re-elect Leopold despite accusations and charges the same way District residents continued to re-elect Marion Barry. I understand that a community’s determination to choose its own leadership — over the recommendations of the press — trumped everything. But I am ready for better representation. Not perfect, just better.
But while I believe we can elect officials with stronger moral fibers, I also believe the change must begin with us.
Aretha Franklin said it best in her song, “If you want a do-right woman. Then you’ve gotta be a do-right man.”
This is a pivotal time in our city. It’s time we can take stock and tweak our moral compass – individually and collectively. I know many in the District who work hard, play by the rules and expect their leaders and representatives to do the same.
Follow Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery on Twitter @Sonsyrea.
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