THE LATEST Prince George’s politician to land in ethical hot water is Del. Tiffany T. Alston, a freshman lawmaker whose start in Annapolis last winter was distinguished mainly by her spinelessness on same-sex marriage.
Ms. Alston, a Democrat, was indicted last week for felony theft, among other charges, for allegedly diverting campaign funds to cover some wedding expenses. As Emmet C. Davitt, the Maryland state prosecutor, put it, “No candidate or committee can possibly be unaware that campaign funds may not be converted to the personal use of an officer or candidate.” Ms. Alston denies any wrongdoing.
It must be disheartening for Prince George’s residents to see another elected official brought up on allegations of having sought private gain from public roles — lining their pockets, to use the vernacular. In a county where a succession of investigations, allegations and indictments has raised concerns about the political culture, this latest incident will only reinforce the disgust and cynicism of an already highly disengaged electorate.
Yet if Prince George’s is to shake its notoriety as a breeding ground for corruption, what it needs is precisely the opposite — involved, energized and alert voters who will hold elected officials to the highest standards.
Before her indictment last week, Ms. Alston was known, if she was known at all, for first enthusiastically supporting and then opposing a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. Her flip-flop was executed in spectacularly feckless fashion: Under pressure from constituents opposed to such marriages, she walked out of a key committee meeting just as it was set to consider a measure allowing it, a bill she had co-sponsored.
News of Ms. Alston’s indictment came as state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie was preparing to go on trial on corruption charges and just two weeks before the scheduled sentencing of former county council member Leslie Johnson, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her attempt to hide almost $80,000 in ill-gotten cash in her underwear. Her husband, former County Executive Jack B. Johnson, is set to be sentenced in December for his own corrupt activities in office.
Ms. Alston’s election to the state legislature last year had virtually nothing to do with her biography, qualifications or achievements, which were modest. It had everything to do with the insular political system in Prince George’s, which confers public office on people with friends in high places.
In her case, she had a connection to then-Sen. Nathaniel Exum — her boyfriend (and now husband) worked for the senator’s daughter Camille Exum, a former county council member. That was apparently enough for Mr. Exum to include Ms. Alston on his slate, a team of candidates organized by state senators. In the event, Mr. Exum lost, but Ms. Alston’s inclusion gave her a leg up in a primary field of eight political novices seeking the single open seat in the 24th Legislative District last fall.
Ms. Alston is innocent until proven guilty and has the right to a robust defense. In the meantime, Prince George’s residents are within their rights to ponder whether the slate system serves the county well, and whether their elected leaders are getting the message that ethical shenanigans are not acceptable.