Julius Hobson Sr. was perhaps the most brilliant, honest and inventive proponent of political independence for the nation's capital back in the 1960s. When rats infested D.C. black neighborhoods and city officials said all the money for eradication had been spent -- in white neighborhoods -- Hobson announced a "rat relocation program" and dumped rodents in Georgetown. Suddenly, crews showed up all over town to poison rats.
And when Congress passed the Home Rule Act of 1974, Hobson famously dubbed it "home fool." In Hobson's view, Congress had granted limited self-rule and still maintained ultimate power. Thus, it was home fool.
I'm not sure whether Hobson is laughing or weeping in his grave. After what we have witnessed the past few weeks in D.C. political circles, his caustic characterization seems all too appropriate. Many of our elected officials and their aides have done very foolish, criminal things. Must I tick them off? Council member Harry Thomas Jr. steals money from a children's trust fund and is headed to jail. Chairman Kwame Brown falsifies loan applications, plays fast and loose with campaign accounts and is headed to jail. Two of Mayor Vince Gray's closest aides plead to felonies for paying a mayoral candidate to harass incumbent Adrian Fenty in the 2010 campaign.
Though federal prosecutors have yet to bring charges against Gray, the conventional wisdom in the Wilson Building is that he's not likely to fill out his term.
Is this not the moment to reassess the political system established under the Home Rule Act? If it has become "home fool," why not establish a commission to retool the system? I'm not suggesting we chuck self-government and return to the days when three commissioners appointed by the president ran the city. But our current system is fatally flawed.
Marion Barry might be on board. "This has been one of the most serious government crises since home rule," he said in council chambers Wednesday, during a debate on replacing Kwame Brown that saw weeping, and much hurling of accusations. Barry compared the current crisis to "Lincoln at Gettysburg."
Who will play Lincoln and lead reforms of Home Rule?
Allow me to throw out a few potential changes:
? More democracy: The current system has too few elected offices. It is constipated. Why not double the size of the City Council to 26 members, cut the pay in half and make it truly a part-time job? Follow through on current legislation to make the attorney general an elected post. Break up the current one-party system, run by Democrats, by mandating that at least a third of the legislature is Republicans.
? Less democracy: Make the District government operate under a council-manager system. We elect a council to legislate and make policy, but it appoints a city manager to run the government. The mayor becomes more of a ceremonial figure.
If these reforms are too broad, a commission could simply tweak the current law. Perhaps it makes council jobs full time. Maybe it calls for tighter ethics and campaign finance laws.
If we don't take steps to make ourselves look less like home fools, Congress will, or residents will lose interest.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.