NO SOONER HAD charges been brought against former D.C. Council chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) than speculation started on what that and other city scandals might mean for the District’s chances to gain budget autonomy and other rights. Even more ominous is the worry that the city’s troubles will be used to reassert more federal control over the District.
Well, the last time we checked, the rights of citizens were not linked to the morality of their elected officials. And a good thing, too. If they were, a lot of American cities and states would be under the thumb of federal control boards.
Mr. Brown, expected to appear Friday in U.S. District Court to plead guilty to bank fraud as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, became the District’s second elected official forced to resign this year. “City leaders keep arguing for more autonomy, but it’s hard to get there when so many people keep getting indicted,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Post reporters, “This is embarrassing, and the city deserves better.”
Mr. Chaffetz is right about D.C. citizens being ill served by the likes of Mr. Brown and former council member Harry B. Thomas Jr., headed to prison for his theft of city monies, but it would be wrong to punish residents for those shortcomings. Two successive governors of Illinois went to prison for corruption, but no one suggested that the state should lose its right to self-government. And if good behavior were a condition for government authority, Congress surely should have penalized Nevadans when Sen. John Ensign (R) involved political supporters, staff members and Senate colleagues in an effort to contain the aftermath of an affair. Congress surely should have put the district of Rep. Mark Sauder (R-Ind.) into receivership when he engaged in an extramarital affair with an aide. We mention those two ex-lawmakers, among many, because of their meddling attempts to rewrite Washington’s local gun laws.
There is no question that the District faces a difficult time in righting its government, but resiliency is built into the system. Mr. Thomas has been succeeded by a promising newcomer; Mr. Brown’s name is already gone from the Wilson Building, and his former colleagues have made plans to pick an interim replacement.
Moreover, despite the turmoil, the city is functioning; its finances are healthy, and its population is growing. If Congress wants to be helpful, it should give the city the tools its need for proper self-government. Topping that list are the rights afforded to every other American citizen.