Every election day counts. But for DC residents, this year’s Election Day may be more important than most. That’s because the actions of voters beyond the district are likely to be as important to the future of the city as those we ourselves launched on Tuesday.
Opinion polls suggest the nation’s voters will give Congress a Republican Senate and a more Republican House. If this is true, it could cause problems for DC’s hopes of expanding autonomy and voting rights. The city’s quest for democratic equality and the GOP’s current grim vision of DC independence don’t go hand in hand. If the predicted Republican victory comes true, the city can expect to spend the next few years choking on the toxic brew that a GOP congress is likely to serve.
This prospect makes this week’s commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Autonomy Act, a moment that may well represent the culmination of the city’s pressure for full self-determination.
Sadly, city leaders took the opportunity to celebrate. the adoption of autonomy, however, was not their triumph.
Credit for the limited measure of self-government the city now enjoys belongs to the former congressional and city leaders, most of whom are now deceased.
No member of the current generation of elected officials played an important role in the passage of the law on autonomy. The same observation applies to most of the local crowd who toasted at the John A. Wilson Building on Tuesday night, the only possible exception being Sterling Tucker, the city’s first elected chairman and chairman of the celebration. . Tucker was a visible and vocal advocate in the years leading up to the law’s passage. But most of the local figures at the time were secondary supplicants, not power brokers. The most prominent and effective people interacting on Capitol Hill in 1973 were Del. Walter Fauntroy, mayor Walter Washington and municipal administrator Julian Dugas. I saw it all from my perch as the Director of Minority Personnel on the then-Senate District of Columbia Committee where I – though a non-Republican – worked for Republican Senator from Maryland and a member of the Classification Committee Charles McC. Mathias Jr.
But rather than pushing for the creation of the Home Rule Act or cringe in anticipation of a Republican congressional takeover, DC voters can focus on the men and women seeking municipal office on Tuesday. These winners will become stewards of the limited power granted to the city by Congress 40 years ago. Now is not the time to bring gleeful talkative, selfish and light-hearted people into the office.
As voters go to the polls, it is worth considering how well their elected officials have handled the powers of self-government.
The corruption of the electoral process and the appalling financial management are two of the most distinguishing features of the past 40 years. And what has been done to political campaigns is disgusting.
Realizing that the election for national autonomy in 1974 lacked rules governing the electoral process, Congress promulgated legislation regulate political campaigns, including financial contributions. The objective was to control “the corrosive influence of big money and the abuses rooted in the secrecy of political campaigns and the new government process” and “to provide for financial disclosure for candidates, elected officials . . . district government as a means of reducing public mistrust and improving the political process.
I wrote these words for Mathias, who presided over a June 13, 1974 hearing on the Political Campaign Bill which was enacted a few weeks later.
So how did it work for us? A two-year – and still ongoing – federal investigation into DC corruption. Jeffrey E. Thompson, Michael A. Brown, Vernon Hawkins. Need to say more?
And after a long struggle for autonomy, it was almost lost when Congress removed control of the city’s finances from the mayor and council, handing a virtually insolvent DC government to a federal financial control board in 1995. – 20 years after the first elected government took office. This era of self-reliance was a monument to mismanagement, neglect, wasted money, wasted opportunities.
Today, however, the city is no more independent from Congress than it was when President Richard Nixon signed the Home Rule Act on Christmas Eve 1973. Yes, Congress has attacked autonomy squarely. government over the past 40 years. But many of the city’s wounds were self-inflicted.
Remember the board member who bit the tow truck driver in a fight? This resulted in the board member being convicted of assault and six months in jail in 1981 for failing to pass a court-ordered psychiatric examination, as required by his probation. And do you remember the mayor with the crack pipe, a girlfriend, and peeping authorities in a downtown hotel room? And the council members were taken to jail?
Think about these things before you vote.
Let’s not give Home Rule opponents more stones to throw at us.
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