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IN OTHER WORDS: Turnover on D.C. Council not driven by voters

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2012

With the bow tied neatly on the political career of former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. now has taken down two members of the 13-member legislative body in a scant few months.

That's as many council members as D.C. voters have thrown out of office in total since the elections of 2004.

That notable year, residents opted to replace two-term at-large council member Harold Brazil with Brown. We know how that turned out.

Ward 8 kicked Sandy Allen to the curb because its voters thought they would be better represented by Marion Barry.

In two terms, Mr. Barry was censured by his colleagues after a report concluded he violated conflict-of-interest laws when he awarded a contract to his girlfriend and then tried to impede an investigation into the matter. More recently, he has offended a spectrum of minority groups with ill-considered comments.

There's been turnover. But most of it was tied to ambition. Linda W. Cropp, Vincent B. Orange and Adrian M. Fenty all ran for mayor and all left the council after the 2006 elections.

The same year's primaries sent Kathy Patterson into the private sector after she put her Ward 3 seat on the line in a losing bid for council chairman against Vincent C. Gray. Enter Mary M. Cheh.

Mr. Gray's upward move created space for Yvette M. Alexander from Ward 7, just as Mr. Fenty's promotion opened a spot for Muriel Bowser from Ward 4.

And Tommy Wells replaced Sharon Ambrose in Ward 6 after Ms. Ambrose, who was working through some health problems, decided not to run again.

But who's really been voted out? What incumbents have been on the ballot, been scrutinized by voters and sent the message, "No, we've seen what you can do and you don't deserve another term serving the residents of the District."

Sure, many would argue the budgets have been balanced, the trash is picked up, the snow is removed and the DMV is nothing like it was in the 1990s.

But at the same time, others might say unemployment is high, schools have underperformed, crime has fluctuated and fees and fines have risen while voters seem to have left the council largely unaccountable.

A small group of angry Republicans called out Carol Schwartz in the city's 2008 GOP primary, and her half-hearted write-in bid fizzled when voters picked Democrat — er, independent — Michael A. Brown.

Other than that, the closest has been Sekou Biddle. The mild-mannered former school board member was appointed to an at-large seat to replace Kwame Brown when he became chairman last year. Mr. Biddle served less than four months on the council before a special election let voters decide who they wanted. And they picked Mr. Orange.

As recently as April, when the specter of public corruption was — or should have been — on the mind of every D.C. voter, in a year when nearly half the council could have been turned out by an angry electorate, the result was more of the same.

Mr. Orange, whose campaign coffers were brimming with tainted money orders tied to prolific donor Jeffrey E. Thompson, eked out a victory in the primary over Mr. Biddle.

Ms. Alexander, whose constituent services spending on rent, catering and advertising did not garner sanctions only because there were few and unspecific laws in place governing the funds, emerged from a field of Democrats.

Despite long-held questions about possible conflicts of interest between city government interests and Jack Evans' outside employer, Patton Boggs LLP, not a single opponent emerged to challenge the fundraising juggernaut in Ward 2.

And, of course, Mr. Barry won decisively.

Each of those council members has denied wrongdoing and none has been charged.

Of course, until a day before they pleaded guilty, neither had Thomas or Brown. But in those cases maybe the voters had reason to pause. The allegations against both men emerged on the stump — before they were elected to office. That doesn't mean every rhetorical lash levied in the heat of a campaign should be taken as truth.

But these days Mr. Machen does seem to be driving more turnover on the council than the voters.

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