When D.C. voters believe the scandals with local politicians are over, another shoe drops leaving them disappointed, angry and numb. After two decades, voters are still reliving the dreadful night in 1990 when then-Mayor Marion Barry was carried away in handcuffs for smoking crack cocaine during a sting operation at the now renamed Vista Hotel in Northwest. They remain convinced that the "Mayor for Life" was set-up in an attempt to get him out of office; but that didn't happen as Barry continued to win elections and reelections following his six-month prison stay.
The list of ethics violations, unpaid taxes, fines and now criminal convictions is not short for a council that has only existed for 40 years. And voters are becoming increasingly skeptical that the violators who have been caught have been targeted simply because they are Black. They say, "You do the crime, you do the time." Thus, stealing from children is an intolerable offense for which Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas received little or no sympathy for his 38-month jail sentence.
But we agree with those who believe the bar has been set too low for present and future aspirants for public office based upon the investigation levied upon Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Brown stated in his remarks after pleading guilty of fraudulently acquiring a home equity line of credit and a loan that he used to purchase a boat that, "The almost two-year investigation that led to these guilty pleas began after allegations were made that I either misspent, stole or improperly used 2008 campaign funds. The charges which I have entered the guilty plea are not related to any of those allegations. ... I have not stolen or improperly used any public money. ... Nor have I used my public office or position to improperly benefit or enrich myself."
D.C. voters should consider themselves fortunate to have such a zealous U.S. Attorney as Ronald Machen has proven to be. Politicians who abuse the power and influence bestowed upon them by the public electorate should be investigated and removed from office if found guilty.
But clearly these difficult economic times have forced many Americans to make decisions in their personal lives that appear and, in fact, are unethical, if not, outright illegal. But public and private institutions, including local municipalities and banks, are not immune and are also guilty for violations that are punishable. Case in point, District officials who are milking residents unnecessarily by saturating the city with speed cameras and increasing fees in the name of public safety, when in fact, what is clearly happening is an infringement of privacy with the government's eyes peering deeper into our private lives at residents' expense. Brown announced his plan to hold public hearings into this matter before he resigned from office last week.
At this rate, the probe of local officials will steadfastly continue as law enforcement officials peer into their bank records, marriage licenses, credit reports, traffic records, college transcripts, even medical records for the faintest reason. Almost any revelation could potentially force an official out of office, as well as impede anyone with the notion to run for office to reconsider. This ongoing aggressive policing will only leave D.C. voters numb and confused about the future of politics in D.C.
Are we there yet? No, but we're real close.