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Barras: Mary Cheh and voter education in D.C.

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

Wait. Let me get this straight: D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh doesn't regret endorsing Kwame R. Brown in 2010 for chairman of the legislature? I was flummoxed when I heard that.

After all, Brown was forced to resign from office last month after being charged with and pleading guilty to felony bank fraud and a misdemeanor campaign finance violation. Further, Cheh had said, then, she felt "betrayed" and Brown "let down the District of Columbia."

Had the Ward 3 legislator fallen down the rabbit hole, yet again?

"I really don't regret what I did because at the time I thought it was right," Cheh told Chuck Thies during an interview on his WPFW radio show--D.C. Politics. "I didn't know he cheated on his mortgage application."

But, when Cheh endorsed Brown warning signals blared: There were media reports about the terrible state of his personal finances, including lawsuits by three credit card companies. The Office of Campaign Finance had begun an investigation into the financial operations of his 2008 campaign. Cheh ignored all that; she placed her imprimatur and political organization behind his bid for chairman.

She was not alone. Thousands of residents supported Brown. I didn't.

Still, Cheh's failure during that radio show to analyze--honestly and forthrightly--her decision to support Brown was troubling. Equally disappointing, she misused the opportunity to discuss, with candor, the importance of voters educating themselves about candidates. Bright smiles, folksy homilies and the fact that a candidate may be the enemy or your enemy aren't sufficient qualifications for leadership.

Choosing a leader shouldn't be taken lightly or fueled by past grudges.

Cheh has become CEO of Grudge Central.

During the radio interview, she justified her failure to fully vet Brown and the decision to support Mayor Vincent C. Gray by trashing Adrian M. Fenty and Vincent Orange.

"I was mostly shocked when [Cheh] said that Fenty had racially divided the city," Thies told me. "[Fenty's] political opponents portrayed things like dog parks and bike lanes as white centric. [It] really surprised me [she] bought into that."

Fenty as racial villain was the message of candidate Gray and his operatives. Two years later, Cheh continues to perpetuate that false characterization. Why?

She also sought, yet again, to cast Fenty as corrupt, arguing he steered contracts to friends. Last year, the independent counsel working for the legislature concluded, after an extensive investigation, Fenty had not engaged in any wrongdoing.

As for Orange, Cheh admitted that in 2010 she knew him only as a lobbyist for PEPCO and "was not favorably impressed." That's because he opposed her energy legislation. Now, as an at-large councilman, Orange has opposed several other bills she has offered. That accounted, in part, for her unwillingness last month to support him as chairman pro tempore.

Trust and confidence in the legislature won't be restored any time soon, if council members use public forums, as Cheh did, to rehash false allegations, replay petty grievances and advance personal vendettas.

jonetta rose barras can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com

Jonetta Rose Barras's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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