- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Still reeling from the downfall of native son Harry Thomas Jr., D.C. stakeholders are pondering their next moves by envisioning short- and long-term snapshots of a city with no kingmakers.

In other words, power to the people.

Neither the mayor nor the chairman of the D.C. Council is going to stick out his neck during an upcoming special election that likely will be held after Thomas learns his prison fate for stealing from the people. Besides, the U.S. attorney’s office, which operates outside the scope of the D.C. government, is conducting an ongoing probe of public corruption on behalf of the people.

For now, Ward 5 residents are at the mercy of at-large D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, Thomas‘ predecessor and the closest thing they have to a powerbroker representing the 48,718 Democrats, 2,075 Republicans and other sundry registered voters.

Mr. Orange, a Democrat, has scheduled a meeting for Monday evening at Israel Baptist Church in Northeast, but don’t count on it becoming a pulpit pitch to the people to solidify support for Mr. Orange, who faces re-election this year. Nor will it likely be a precursor to the daunting who-will-replace-Thomas question, though the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics likely will declare the Ward 5 seat officially vacant this week.

While Mr. Orange and other surefire at-large candidates and potential Thomas seat-fillers certainly will make their presence known at the informational gathering, the meeting will be a test of the D.C. political leadership in general and its elected leadership in particular.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, both Democrats, can hardly afford not to show their faces, and the other at-large pols — David Catania, Phil Mendelson and Michael A. Brown — should pay homage to Ward 5 voters by showing up, too.

And though voters in the ward are unwavering Democrats, the D.C. Republican leadership shouldn’t risk being marked absent at the Ward 5 meeting. After all, the D.C. GOP barely qualifies as a political party, and that’s a fact because it makes certain it offers up candidates every two years or so.

Thomas‘ guilty pleas were embarrassing and sadly disappointing, but in the shiny mirror of democracy, his wrongdoing offers a clear reflection upon a leadership void that can be filled only by voters determined to elect people of character, intelligence and vision — leaders whose actions are rooted in the belief that ours is a government of, by and for the people.

And that’s where Mr. Orange, the mayor and the chairman, and the at-large lawmakers and GOP leaders come in.

The absence of Thomas provides obvious opportunities for true and honest leaders to reveal themselves so voters can begin closing the door to “leaders” who promise a future of possibilities but, after winning office, deliver little more than the status quo.

Indeed, the test is not merely for voters of Ward 5, but voters across the city who are disappointed not just in Thomas, but to a measurable degree in all elected officials of city hall — hence, discussions in all eight wards about recall efforts.

There’s no question that much of the city’s future fiscal health depends on what happens in Ward 5.

Every major issue of consequence that the District is grappling with — education and tax revenues, constituent services and transportation, economic development and environmental incentives, social services and cultural norms, business and regulatory affairs, employment and justice — has manifested itself in plans along the pre-eminent gateway to Washington, which is the New York Avenue corridor.

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