Charges of cronyism, nepotism, campaign malfeasance and other scandals involving Washington, D.C. lawmakers and the mayor highlights the need for revised ethical standards and keener supervision, a local political analyst said.

“I think the recent scandals in D.C. suggest there might be a need for more oversight,” said G. Derek Musgrove, assistant professor of history and political science at the University of the District of Columbia. “The current group of legislators is not willing to police itself. The best that we could do is set up a quasi-government group to monitor and take action if needed.”

The UDC professor went on to say there should be firmer definitions of what constitute ethical violations. “There is no uniform definition of corruption,” he said. “So what supporters of a politician or project may view as positive, the opposition might believe the behavior is corrupt.”

That was the case made recently by the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition, a grassroots alliance of neighborhood organizations, clergy people, workers, environmentalists, parents, students and community members, who worry that Wal-Mart is buying its way into the District.

In a letter to the DC Council on March 10, the coalition wrote it learned two advisers and a fundraiser for one of the council members was being paid to promote a Wal-Mart store opening in northeast/southeast. And, it urged all council members to disclose any ties they had to Wal-Mart including staffers, fundraisers or campaign advisors.

“At best, this creates the appearance of a conflict of interest. At worst, it suggests that the world’s largest retailer believes it can ‘buy off’ the DC Council,” the letter stated. “In the present political environment, where scandals have rocked the confidence DC residents have in our top elected leaders – truth, trust and transparency surely deserve your highest priority.”

The Rev. Douglas E. Moore, 87, author of {The Buying and Selling of the DC City Council} and former at-large member of the DC Council, was reminded of his years as an elected official when the southwest corridor was being transformed from swamp to a vibrant habitable community.

“My colleagues fought hard to get me off the council to keep from exposing them publicly one-by-one. What needs to be monitored in the Wal-Mart development is tracking whether funds are coming to any council member through a third party,” said Moore.

Councilwoman Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), the councilmember in question, admitted that persons closely associated with her campaign are consultants for a public relations firm in contract with Wal-Mart, but she denied any conflict of interest.

“I’m excited when the opportunity presents itself for District residents to obtain employment, and if I personally know qualified candidates, I don’t have a problem giving them a reference,” said Alexander. “As far as Wal-Mart is concerned, I’m proud to have co-sponsored legislation that requires such retailers to offer fair wage benefits and engage the community with a comprehensive benefits agreement.”

Many residents disagreed that community leaders with close ties to public officials should not be able to speak on behalf of the community and believe their involvement will force Wal-Mart to offer District residents more jobs.

“We have immigrant-owned food marts, carryouts, liquor stores, dry cleaners and gas stations that only hire their own people. These same groups never said a word. Given the size of Wal-Mart, it will offer far more opportunities to African Americans than these immigrant-owned businesses,” said Debra A. Daniels, 55, longtime Ward 4 homeowner. “We want someone at the table from the onset who can keep the political leaders informed.”

Former Ward 7-resident, Monica Y. Fenton, 55, agreed. “Wal-Mart is a wake up call to those businesses that shunned our employment in the past. We have no loyalty to them and if it goes out of business, it should be replaced with another that hires from the community.”

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO