D.C. Council Scandals Disgust Residents

D.C. Council Scandals Disgust Residents

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The ethical cloud that envelopes D.C. City Council members has left the public disappointed and disgusted.

At the moment, several members are either under investigation or enmeshed in ethical problems. And Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has been fending off accusations of his own for months.

“I’m mad as hell,” said a Ward 5 resident whose gestures punctuated her agitation. “I worked real hard for Vincent Gray and I just threw out all of his T-shirts. It’s embarrassing for the whole city. Thomas, Brown, Gray…”

John Walker, a Northern Virginia resident, said the Council members’ woes are nothing new.

“I’ve been here a long time and this is consistent with [the District’s] history,” he said. “There is a lack of good governance but I have a feeling they’ll get it right.”
Walker, who works for a non-profit which offers services to veterans, said there are larger implications to the Council’s actions.

“It’s unfortunate that this is happening with all the budget problems,” he said. “Things like this are a distraction and just give people on the Hill the excuse to hold back. This goes back to Home Rule. If Congress says things aren’t up to par, they will increase controls and tighten things up. All this overshadows the good work they [the Council] generally do.”

One 30-something woman frowned when asked about the D.C. Council.

“You mean the corrupt Council?” she asked with arms folded. “This is just ongoing proof and a clear indication of the lack of integrity in the Council,” she said. “The fact that these council members are under investigation doesn’t bolster confidence.”

“I’m disappointed, especially with a new administration having all these problems,” the Virginia resident said. “This is clearly a distraction. A new administration doesn’t need this, not when there are so many issues that need to be attended to.”

People who reacted to the city hall scandals lamented that they have damaged the confidence and credibility of the D.C. Council and hurt the institution. It raises the question, some said, of how effectively the business of the city can be conducted when the focus is on the slew of investigations and allegations of wrongdoing.

Several residents opted to share their views without having their names attached to their comments and expressions of anger, bewilderment and disappointment. Area residents, especially those in the District, said they are hurt by the hits their city has taken and most wish city officials would just get their act together and govern.

Others decried the greed and the sense of entitlement that has propelled some of the Council members to unseemly levels of self-indulgence and avarice. Some, however, cautioned that there should not be a rush to judgment and they chose to withhold their opinions until it’s clear whether council members are guilty or not.

Several council members have been besieged with allegations of wrongdoing, ethical lapses and accusations of campaign misconduct. They are fending off the fallout from inappropriate behavior and lapses of judgment.

The Office of Campaign Finance recently charged D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s Re-election Committee with campaign finance violations for failing to report contributions totaling more than $102,000. The Re-election Committee is also accused of failing to report 53 expenditures in the amount of $169,431.00 and failing to verify more than $174,000 in expenses.

Brown, 40, made news headlines after being sworn-in as D.C. Council Chairman and refusing to drive a pedestrian Chevy Tahoe. Instead, he ordered two fully-loaded SUVs despite the District of Columbia's woeful financial status. Publicity surrounding his actions led him to relinquish a fully-loaded black-on-black Lincoln Navigator.

The District's attorney general also filed charges against Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) for allegedly diverting more than $300,000 of taxpayer funds for his personal use -- travel to Las Vegas, Nev., and Pebble Beach, Calif., and the purchase of a $59,000 Audi SUV. Thomas, 50, has denied any wrongdoing but stepped down last week as chairman of the powerful Economic Development Committee after pressure from his colleagues.

“I don’t think there has ever been a time with so many council members being questioned or failing to exercise ethical diligence. It looks like a bunch of amateurs are running our government,” said a longtime political observer. “They have lost touch with the reasons they’re there in the first place.”

One resident rushing to work on 14th Street in Northwest, offered a pithy comment in passing.

“I’m afraid this administration isn’t in a hurry to do anything about it,” he said. “If any of the agencies were as efficient as parking enforcement, things would be fine.”
Alton E. Drew, a political analyst and commentator, said the D.C. Council continues to inflict deep wounds upon itself.

“It appears that no one’s in charge so they have cut loose,” said Drew, who lived in the Washington metropolitan area for nine years. “I hate to sound stereotypical but D.C. has a management problem. There’s always been a question of whether the District can govern itself.

“Someone might scream for new ethics legislation but developing a code won’t make you behave. It may send a message and people may abide by the rules in the short-term but they will revert to their old habits.”

Drew, 47, said a problem that contributes to the ethical issues the Council faces is the fact that the electorate locally, statewide and nationally does not do an effective job of screening candidates.

“How do you determine a candidate’s character and integrity?” he asked. “People fall for a face, looks, the exterior. We haven’t learned to move past this. We don’t have the time so we depend on the media.

“People think they know Tom Cruise but they don’t. I remember a reporter saying he had had a two-hour interview with Cruise and while he told the reporter a lot, he still didn’t know him.”

For local educator Terry Williams, perception is reality.

“This is a sad situation,” said Williams, 33, who is a math teacher at Anacostia High School in Southeast.

“You elect them to represent you and they’re stealing money. We just got new textbooks and the pages are already falling out. I was just talking to a friend about the school system. Our resources are depleted, books are outdated, they fire teachers and cut [programs].Yet, it seems that there’s always money to steal.”