Community Palette

Let the Chips Fall Where They May

March 7, 2012

The raid on Jeffrey Thompson’s home and office and on Jeanne Clarke Harris’s office by federal investigators has created another political free-for-all in the media. Everyone is trying to figure out what happened and why and jumping to conclusions without the facts.

Jeffrey Thompson (Photo by: TCBA.com) Jeffrey Thompson

As someone involved in political campaigns since the age of 12, I realize that anytime there is money floating around in campaigns there are always people looking to get some or to curry favors by giving some. In our efforts to clean up campaigns we need to be careful we don’t make things worse. Councilmember’s Wells and Cheh are proposing solutions that could make it harder to raise money which could be good but will that then mean only wealthy candidates can run?

D.C. moved into the big-time when Adrian Fenty raised over $3 million for his first campaign and then over $5 million for his losing reelection bid. It wasn’t that long ago when reporters in this town thought raising a million dollars was too much. In 2006 Fenty became furious when told he shouldn’t consider running unless he could raise $1.5 million because he didn’t think he could. Today that kind of money gets you out of the starting gate.

The District of Columbia has moved quickly from being a small town to being a big city with the complex issues that big cities have. But in many ways we are still a small town and our political scandals seem overwhelming. We have few politicians and comparatively few people with real money involved in the political system so that when one person gets caught doing something wrong, or there is the hint of something wrong, the mud splatters all over the place.

Growing up in New York I saw a lot more scandals than D.C. ever had but there were so many politicians that a few scandals here and there didn’t throw everyone for a loop. There are of course just plain dumb politicians, but that isn’t an appellation anyone could apply to Vincent Gray. He is often considered the smartest person in the Wilson building. I still believe that he had no intention of doing anything wrong when he was convinced to run for Mayor. Clearly there were people around him who may have thought differently and were motivated either by greed or by the knowledge that to run a successful campaign you needed big money quickly. Does lack of intent to do wrong exempt Gray from responsibility, NO! But I just suggest before we assign personal guilt we let the U.S. Attorney finish his investigation and let the chips fall where they may.

There is a running commentary in the press and among some activists about what Congress will think and how what our politicians do will impact their actions. I think we need to get away from that discussion. The worst that has happened to DC in my 32 years here is the Control Board. If we look at D.C. today we are a stronger, bigger and better city than before. We have survived Marion Barry and some of his cronies going to jail and Marion himself going to jail. Developers in this town won’t stop investing if there is more wrong-doing uncovered because despite our politicians this city is a great investment and it is growing. The scandals haven’t stopped anyone from moving here and they won’t. So I think we should focus on what is great and happening here instead of spending time wringing our hands.

I am all for cleaning up politics but how do you explain newspapers in town that chastise current politicians but don’t give any coverage to the ones running against them? We will survive Harry Thomas and anyone else found guilty of a crime because we are bigger than our politicians. We are a great city and its time to focus on that and sell that. The investigations will go on and when we see the results the chips will fall where they may.


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A Synonym for the D.C. Democratic State Committee: Dysfunctional

February 28, 2012

Many have asked what the purpose of the D.C. Democratic State Committee is. In a city that is so overwhelmingly Democratic it has very little to do and they prove time and time again that even with little to do they can’t do it well.

They no longer appear to have an annual Kennedys-King dinner which may be a blessing as at one a few years ago there were so many mistakes in the program that it was embarrassing for them to hand it out. A number of years ago they printed a poster to support Democratic candidates in the District and misspelled the name of our delegate to Congress. In 2008 they got into trouble for how they raised and accounted for the money to cover their expenses at the convention.

Often considered their prime reason for existence in D.C. is handling the quadrennial selection of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The District of Columbia in 2012 will get 39 delegates and 2 alternates to the convention but most of those slots are filled by DNC party officials or DC elected officials. This year there are only 13 delegates and one alternate who will be determined by a vote at a caucus on March 3rd. But if you try to get information on the caucus as late as Tuesday morning by going to the State Committee website you would think that they are doing everything possible to hide the event from the public.

I was told that they recently developed a new website. But Google the D.C. Democratic State Committee and it takes you to their old site which is still functioning. If you wade through all the information on that site you finally come across the fact that the March 3rd Caucus will be held at the D.C. Convention Center. WRONG!

Then call someone and find their new site and on the home page you find a listing of the approved candidates for delegate but still no location for the Caucus. The candidates are listed by the two Congressional Districts which D.C. is split into for the purpose of selecting delegates. Funny since we don’t even have one voting member in Congress.

Be that as it may, Wards 1, 2, 6, and 8 make up District #1 and Wards 3, 4, 5 and 7 make up District #2. But on the home page you find the list of candidates but don’t see which Wards make up which District. If you read through every document on the site you will eventually find that the caucus is actually being held at University of the District of Columbia (UDC) from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. But they don’t tell you in which building, or give the courtesy of giving directions to UDC. They don’t mention that after 11:00 am you can just stop by and vote and don’t have to stay for the whole caucus. Or that there is actually an opportunity for those that celebrate their Sabbath on Saturday or who may be out of town to vote on Thursday at a different site after calling to make an appointment.

Just wait to hear the moaning after it is all over about how surprised they are that so few Democrats turned out to vote. The time has come to either remake the DC Democratic State Committee into a functioning organization if people still believe it has a purpose, or  have the Democratic National Committee just take it over.


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Cursing in Public

February 23, 2012

It’s fascinating that the D.C. Council had to pass a new rule to prohibit councilmembers from cursing during public meetings. One would think that adults would just abide by this without needing a written rule. Maybe the council can now put a jar on the dais and each time someone says a bad word they would have to put in a dollar, just like they do in a lot of kindergarten classes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the rule is fine but adults should know better than to use profane language in their debates whether they are at a public meeting or not. Good discussions and debates even in private shouldn’t have to rely on the use of profanity. When someone has to resort to cursing in an argument it is often because they have run out of anything intelligent to say. So instead of just keeping quiet they curse at the other person.

The use of profanity in discourse isn’t something new and it usually results from frustration or intense dislike. I have never seen profanity accomplish anything in the way of influencing another person or making them change their mind and in fact it usually ends a debate and makes the person who it is used against just dig in deeper on their opinion.

We have seen public discourse go downhill over the years and the current debate between liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans is a prime example. It isn’t always the use of profanity but often just using language that denigrates each others' religion, beliefs and way of life in ways that don't accomplish anything or change anyone’s mind.

In many ways, our children’s use of social media tools may make intelligent debate a lost art. When you can communicate using LOL, BRB, LMAO, or hundreds of other shortened ways of saying something, you lose the ability to hold a good conversation. People no longer write letters and schools often don’t teach the classics. You can graduate from high school in the District of Columbia without having ever gone to the Smithsonian or seen a play. So is it any wonder that intelligent and intellectual conversation and debate has become something of a lost art.

While we may often think our political opponents are just plain stupid when they disagree with us, calling them that will only make matters worse. Just watch the reaction of the person you curse out or denigrate in a conversation and see how it impacts the entire discussion. We have seen schoolyard bullies and how their words can impact a child who is weaker or less able to hold their own. At the same time we have seen adults get so riled up by being called names that they resort to threatening or actual violence in response. Being a verbal bully never leads to a good result.

Our councilmembers should stop bullying each other, or calling each other names and at the least, apologize to each other when things do get out of hand. Doing so would make a good example for our children.


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