The 1973 Home Rule Act, which outlines the District’s self-governance, screwed the District of Columbia over in a variety of ways. It denies Congressional representation and made any legislation passed by the D.C. Council subject to the whims of Congress. But the setting aside of two of the D.C. Council’s four at-large seats for non-Democrats is one of the most flagrant violations of fair representation.
The D.C. Council is composed of a representative from each of the District’s eight wards, four at-large members, and a chair. It serves as a city council-cum-state legislature. We’re a city where 74 percent of registered voters are Democrats and only 7 percent are Republican, but to appease congressional Republicans, a clause was included in the Home Rule Act that only permits two at-large members from the same party.
It’s an affront to democracy and an insult to Washingtonians that Congress did not trust residents to elect a council without quotas. That said, the race for the non-Democratic at-large seat is shaping up to be the only exciting Council election this year.
Kwame Brown, the Democratic at-large councilmember who’s up for reelection, has mounted a successful fundraising campaign, even though he faced no competition in the Democratic primary. He is expected to cruise to victory.
The Republican primary saw the defeat of incumbent Councilmember Carol Schwartz by Patrick Mara, a young government relations manager with a focus on fiscal responsibility. Mara took advantage of Schwartz’s nearly non-existent campaigning and ended up crushing her. Schwartz has since decided to run as a write-in candidate, though this makes her odds significantly longer.
Running against the Republicans are Statehood Green candidate David Schwartzman, and three “Independents” (the peculiar structure of the council turns many Democrats into Independents when there’s a potentially winnable at-large election): Michael Brown, Dee Hunter, and Mark Long.
Unsurprisingly, the candidates are universally liberal on social issues. Brown, Mara, Schwartz and Schwartzman all support gay marriage, D.C. voting rights and strict gun control. Hunter and Long could not be reached for interviews, but given their Democratic roots it’s safe to say their views are probably similarly progressive.
The first candidate you can discount is Schwartz. She doesn’t give any specifics on governing, insisting only that “we need seasoned leadership.” But with 12 of the 13 councilmembers likely to retain their posts, it doesn’t look like D.C. will be dealing with a lack of institutional knowledge.
If you’re determined to vote Republican, Mara is a much better option. He has vowed to be “the fiscal watchdog on the council” and his oversight would probably be beneficial. However, his closeness to business interests and absolute unwillingness to raise taxes will probably rub D.C. voters’ Democratic sensibilities the wrong way.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Schwartzman advocates a radical readjustment of the tax system that would shift the tax burden to D.C.’s richest residents. Schwartzman’s argument definitely has populist appeal but the odds of his plan passing are slim to none.
That leaves the three Democrats masquerading as Independents. They’ve also got money on the brain. They both have some good ideas—Hunter wants to lower property taxes and Long advocates creating incentives for businesses to operate in D.C.—but Brown is more promising. He wants to restructure the city’s debt and he insists he has the financial know-how to do it.
What the Council needs is someone who will take a tough look at how we’re spending our money while balancing the needs of both business and taxpayers. Michael Brown can do just that. It’s just a pity he had to become an Independent to get the chance to do so.
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