POLITICS

Voters will get chance to help D.C. Council rebound from scandals

By |
Politics,Local,DC,Liz Farmer

The District this year is enduring some of the worst local political scandals since the 1990s, and federal prosecutors are making it clear they are far from finished in their probe of corruption in city government.

But will the shake-up bring a lasting fix?

Some believe the outcome of the election of a new council chairman, a seat left open last week when Kwame Brown resigned in the face of a federal and misdemeanor charge, will decide that question.

But the thing about elections is, there are the people who vote -- and then there's the rest of the city, said Chuck Thies, a political consultant.

"Most people don't get wrapped up in the day-to-day goings on of politics, they're just going to work and trying to support a family," he said.

Indeed, even as the council has a whole has come under fire over the past year as individual members have been touched by a scandal or other failings, all five incumbents won their party nominations in April's primary election.

But last week was unprecedented. Brown, a rising political star, became the first council chairman to resign from office. He did so five months after former Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. became the first D.C. legislator to resign. Both did so in the face of federal charges.

And prosecutors are angry.

"The night that Harry Thomas pleaded guilty to enriching himself with money intended for children's programs, I watched in amazement as Kwame Brown sat on one of the TV stations and pontificated about corruption allegations that had been swirling in the District," Ronald Hosko, head of the Criminal Division in the FBI's Washington Field Office, said after Brown's guilty pleas. "He did so knowing fully that the sword of justice was dangling precariously over his own head."

Prosecutors said Brown is cooperating in their ongoing investigation into city corruption. For some, the lingering scandal is an albatross around city government's neck.

"How long does it take to recover trust, to recover your reputation, your good name?" said temporary Council Chairwoman Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3. "This is so bad."

Still, legislators say they have been able to continue the business of the city, noting they passed a 2013 budget last week that did not include any new taxes.

And the months until the November election comprise a long time for politicians to lick their wounds and for city voters to move on to the next breaking news story, Thies noted.

"That's part of why crooked people get re-elected," he said. "I hope this coming election changes that."

Staff Writer Alan Blinder contributed to this report

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Liz Farmer

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner