The dark cloud casting shadows of mistrust over elected officials in the District could not have been what Walter Washington, Sterling Tucker and countless others foresaw when they secured passage of the Home Rule Act.

Surely, there would be benefits that came with the right to vote for mayor and council members. However, self-enrichment – at least allegations of such – among those elected to serve the public was not one of them. Thirty-six years after Home Rule, D.C. residents see among their top elected public servants:

*Mayor Vincent Gray, whose administration hired some top officials at salaries that exceeded caps for their positions and had to defend against charges of nepotism as a handful of officials’ relatives joined the government payroll. In addition, federal and city authorities are investigating allegations that Gray’s campaign offered cash and a city job to another mayoral candidate in a scheme to help Gray defeat incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty.

*Council Chairman Kwame Brown shortly after his election ordered the city to lease a fully equipped Lincoln Navigator L, at cost to taxpayers of $1,900 a month. When the first SUV arrived without requested appointments, Brown ordered a replacement. He has since declined to use either vehicle, and the city is still attempting to negotiate out of both leases. Brown also is facing scrutiny by the D.C. Campaign Finance Office for irregularities in donations to his 2008 reelection campaign. Brown attributes the problem to bad record keeping.

*Ward 5 Council Member Harry Thomas Jr. is fighting civil charges that he used more than $300,000 in government grants earmarked for youth baseball programs for personal expenses including golf trips to Las Vegas and California and a $60,000 Audi sport utility vehicle. The D.C. attorney general brought the civil lawsuit. Thomas has denied the allegations.

*Ward 1 Council Member Jim Graham, whose former chief of staff has pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to accepting bribes from the taxicab industry, has been investigated by federal law enforcement, which attempted to bribe Graham.

Graham, who has not been implicated in the probe, has said he was mistaken for not reporting the attempted bribes.

The District government has existed under extreme scrutiny before. In the mid-1990s, Congress imposed a financial control board to run the city. However, that was prompted by the city’s shaky financial foundation, and city leaders were not solely to blame for that situation.

The numerous allegations of self-enrichment are new territory.

Any imposed change this time would likely come from residents, including the large number of new voters who now call D.C. home. Many of them don’t have historical ties to the elected officials who are under fire. They want a government that works and trustworthy public servants. And that probably is the way those who secured limited Home Rule would want it.

Keith Harriston, a native Washingtonian, has reported on the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County for more than 20 years.

 

Keith Harriston

Special to the AFRO