Editorial: Vote No on Top Cop Opp

Photo by DCRA
Attorney General Peter Nickles with Mayor Adrian Fenty
Attorney General Peter Nickles with Mayor Adrian Fenty
D.C. voters will have an opportunity to decide Tuesday whether they, rather than the mayor, should choose the District's attorney general.

The debate is not new. In 1998, a bill to hold a referendum on electing the city’s "top cop" was introduced in the D.C. Council, spearheaded by At-large Councilmember David Catania (I). In 2002, 82 percent of voters approved the change, but Congress failed to act.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (D), who has frequently clashed with current Attorney General Peter Nickles (appointed by the Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and confirmed by the Council), said taxpayers need an A.G. who is independent of the mayor.

"The attorney general should not be the attorney for the mayor, the mayor already has an attorney, it's called counselor to the mayor," Cheh said. "This will make it plain, which is already in the law but has not been followed in recent years, that the attorney general represents us, represents the people of the District of Columbia," she told The Washington Post's Tim Craig.
But The Post editorial board has pointed out the potential danger of the office becoming politicized and therefore less independent due to the political realities of fundraising and campaigning.

"An elected attorney general would create a separate power base that, we fear, would be able to impede or even usurp the mayor's ability to set policy," the Post wrote.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (D) also has voted in favor of the measure, although he has concerns about the quality of candidates that could result.

Gertrude Stein said, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." The problem is, "independent" is a relative term. In a jurisdiction where Democrats dominate the landscape so completely that no other party as yet can manage more than a token victory every now and then, "independent" is likely to mean "Democrat" -- and thus inherently connected to the party machinery behind most successful electoral campaigns.

This is not the kind of "independence" voters should codify with a change to the Home Rule Charter. Unless and until the position of attorney general is defined as non-partisan -- or offers District voters a real choice of parties and platforms -- they should steer clear of this half-loaf of democracy.

The Georgetown Dish urges voters to reject Proposed Charter Amendment Measure IV, “The Elected Attorney General Charter Amendment.”

0 Comments For This Article

Richard Layman

Totally disagree. The issue is to provide true representation for the public interest, while simultaneously representing the government interest. With mayoral appointment, for the most part, the public interest is minimized.

Note that I also believe that the national position of AG should be publicly elected as well.

So what if a separate power base is created. That happens in all the states, and having checks on the overwhelming power of the executive is a good thing.

Senator Paul Strauss

I love the Georgetown Voice, but are you ever wrong on this one...

The Attorney General’s job is to represent all of the people, They should be elected by all of the people, not appointed by politicians. Most states elect their own Attorney General, and so should we. It’s an important step toward full democracy and self-determination for DC, it brings us that much closer to Statehood.

DC is one of only 4 jurisdictions in the Continental United States that have their Attorney General lack independence by serving at the pleasure of their Executive Branch. Even other jurisdictions that do not allow their citizens to elect their Attorney General directly, still take meaningful steps to secure their independence, for example;

â– In Tennessee, the Attorney General is appointed by justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court for a fixed 8-year term;
â– In Maine, the Attorney General is elected by a secret ballot at a joint session of the Legislature.

This is not a new idead but a long aspired to goal in DC. A similar amemdment was first introduced by DC Council members in in March, 1998. A 2002 referendum indicated that 82% of DC voters supported an elected District Attorney as opposed to an appointed one.

Amendment IV is needed because without the ability for DC residents to elect their own Attorney General there is a fundamental denial of democracy and lack of simple justice.

Please visit http://www.yeson4dc.com for more information.


The Dish and the Post are on the right side of this one. I would rather have a well-qualified attorney as the attorney general instead of a politician as my attorney general. Also, since the AG defends the Mayor and other executive offices, it does not make a tremendous amount of sense to have them elected separately.