As scandals plague the same D.C. elected officials that push for the city’s autonomy, some residents think the city’s messy politics may hinder the home rule fight.
Local groups recently signed and sent a letter to the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee to tell the government to stay out of local issues.
But it becomes difficult to convince Congress—particularly a Republican-controlled House—that the District can handle its own affairs when more and more of the city’s leaders are becoming mired in a bog of corruption, bribery, misappropriation of funds, campaign reporting improprieties, failure to pay taxes and other charges.
“We make it worse for ourselves when we have all these scandals,” said Corryn Freeman, who was arrested earlier this year in a D.C. autonomy protest led by D.C. Vote. “Because we are not managing ourselves correctly, it gives them more reason to say D.C. can’t handle their own business.”
And those uncertainties begin at the top. Not long after Mayor Vincent Gray was sworn in, his fledgling administration was swamped in allegations of cronyism, nepotism, bloated salaries and an inefficient vetting process that resulted in the hiring of persons with checkered pasts. The fallout resulted in the firing or resignation of several employees, including the mayor’s chief of staff. But that only resulted in an even bigger scandal when Sulaimon Brown—who was fired from his job with the Department of Healthcare Finance—accused the mayor of a pay-for-play scheme. In a hearing last week, the former mayoral candidate testified that Gray’s campaign staff paid him and promised him a job for his support during the mayoral contest.
Brown even produced copies of receipts and money orders he said were given to him on behalf of the mayor—although Gray has publicly denied the allegations.
During that same week, Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) resigned from his post as chair of the economic and development committee after Attorney General Irvin Nathan announced the District’s $1 million lawsuit against the politician on allegations of spending government funds on private luxuries.
“There were no shenanigans going on… I want the facts presented to the public and that’s what we’re going to do,” Thomas said about the charges June 6.
Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D-At-Large), who accepted Thomas’ demotion, also has been under investigation by the Office of Campaign and Finance and the Board of Elections and Ethics for the supposed misreporting of 2008 campaign funds. And, he also came under public censure when it was discovered he had requested a “fully loaded” SUV—after rejecting another—both of which cost the city $2,000 a month.
Also, last week, Ward 1’s Jim Graham came under fire for not turning in his former chief of staff Ted Loza – who pleaded guilty to corruption charges for accepting $1,500 in cash gifts from a FBI informant – when he gave him a wad of cash. The council member has said he did not think the cash Loza gave to him was illegal. Graham has not been charged in the case.
Unluckily, the latest tempest of scandals brewed right before House representatives meet on June 16 to discuss measures that involve D.C.’s 2012 budget.
The only major official fighting for D.C. autonomy that has managed to stay out of scandal isn Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), whose job has likely grown more difficult by the city leadership’s troubles.
Still, she continues to advocate for the District with help from her colleagues. In a recent press release, Norton thanked Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, of New Hampshire, for introducing a resolution last week in support of D.C.’s statehood.
“We particularly appreciate the section in your resolution that declares support for full democracy for the citizens of the District of Columbia,” Norton stated in the release.
“Your resolution reminds our residents and other Americans that only statehood can prevent the Congress from interfering with the District’s local affairs, and only statehood can give D.C. residents the equal status they deserve.”