The DC Attorney General, Irv Nathan; former Chair of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, Togo West; and the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ron Machen; all deserve a lot of credit for doing their jobs to ensure that the limited democracy we have in the District is protected from those who try to harm it: Harry Thomas & Kwame Brown. In the last few months those two sitting DC Councilmembers have been forced to resign their seats after charges were brought against them for breaking the law. It’s a sad day for the District because these two individuals deceived the voters while they committed fraud and theft. District voters did not know of these crimes when we elected them yet we are suffering the consequences of their action with a Council further distracted, paying for new elections, and dealing with a poor public perception that we ‘elect criminals’ to public office. As usual on this blog I want to bring these two cases back to how this relates to Statehood.
It’s important to note that both of these cases were brought to light at the local level with local bodies, either the DC Attorney General or the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, raising concerns about the actions of the two Council members. So despite the misperception that the District turns a blind eye toward corruption I’d say these cases and convictions offer good evidence that our local oversight bodies are able and willing to enforce the laws on the books, if only they were able to. In both incidences the District had to refer the cases to US Attorney because the District has no legal way to enforce criminal laws without going to the US Attorney. The US Attorney has done a stellar job following through on these cases but it should be noted that if the District were a state our Attorney General could have enforced criminal statutes that might have ended these cases months ago. There’s no way to know whether these cases would have ended earlier if we were a state but I’d take that bet because ‘Silent’ Irv Nathan don’t play!!!
There are those who will think that the federal (US) attorney had to step in to save the District from itself. In cases across the country US Attorneys prosecute cases of elected officials breaking the law, just ask former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. It’s part of our system that in many election and corruption criminal cases fall under the purview of the local US Attorney’s office and not the local/state prosecutor. So to say the US Attorney saved the District from itself is just not true and is disingenuous. We have our problems, so do the 50 states, which is why we have local and federal judicial systems in place to determine the appropriate jurisdiction and to try and find justice.
So, it hasn’t been a good year for the District Council but our oversight bodies looking into corruption have done a good job looking out to protect the interests of the people of the District. Irv Nathan, Togo West, and Ron Machen deserve our thanks but it’s still a sad day for the District. We deserve better in so many ways.