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Mayor Delivers Speech on Education

In what could be seen as a rebuke to Councilmember David Catania’s recent actions, last week Mayor Gray delivered a speech on the future of education reform in the District. It was widely seen as a stay the course speech and as the Mayor himself said, “He didn’t expect to make ‘seismic shockwaves’ or ‘big headlines’ noting headlines get you only so far”.

According to a Washington Post editorial “after his speech, Mr. Gray met with Mr. Catania in what both sides characterized as a constructive session”. That would be a positive step for the people of the District. It is crucial that we don’t again politicize education and go back to where everyone had a say and could micromanage our education system and no one was held accountable.

This education dance can be viewed as part of the beginning of the 2014 Campaign season in the District. Chairman Mendelson has indicated that he will introduce legislation to move the primaries from the current date of April 1, 2014. I support a move to either June or September. Keeping it on April Fool’s Day is just fodder for late night comedians.

There are three announced candidates for Mayor including Councilmembers’ Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans. Others indicating a possible run include Councilmember Catania, Mayor Gray and former City Administrator and School Board President Robert Bobb.

Catania might have a hard time as an Independent. He couldn’t run in the Democratic primary unless he gives up his seat and switches Party affiliation. But he has continued attacking the Mayor saying he should have resigned last year. He then suggested Independents like himself should be able to exert their influence and vote in whichever primary, Democratic or Republican, they wanted. I wonder if he also favors abolishing those other than Democratic seats, one of which is his, on the Council.

As we listen to the silver tongued oratory of the potential candidates I suggest that the first question reporters and voters should ask is whether they support the legislation again sent to the Council by Mayor Gray and Attorney General Nathan that would bring about stringent campaign reform. Then ask if they support abolishing the Constituent Service Funds, more appropriately called ‘slush’ funds. Unless candidates support the legislation and abolish the funds one should question what they say about changing the ethical practices of elected officials.

We hear the claim from some on the Council and many recent candidates that the ethical lapses we have seen in the past have kept the City from moving forward. None answered the question as to what the recent indictments stopped our city from doing or what exactly they want to do to improve the city that they can’t because of the ethical questions.

The reality, like it or not, is there isn’t a government in the world that can claim no unethical or cheating politicians. Governments are made up of people and not all people are honest or ethical. While we bemoan what is happening in the District let’s not think we are the only ones not choosing politicians wisely. On June 15th the New York Brooklyn Eagle reported, “Albany has seen 32 state level officials ensnared in corruption cases in the past seven years”. That doesn’t count the numerous others in cities and towns across the state including New York City.

This does not absolve us from trying to do better and make better choices, but like the failures of New York politicians our failures haven’t stopped the District from moving forward. While we work to clean up our government we are making incredible progress. The District is booming and people continue to move here by the thousands. They like what our city has to offer despite the proven shortcomings of those like Barry, Kwame and Michael Brown and Harry Thomas Jr.

Being a councilmember should be a fulltime job to avoid conflicts of interest. Candidates for the Council and for Mayor must do more than say they want to clean up government but actually give voters a detailed list of bills and actions they will introduce and take if we elect them. If they claim poor ethics have kept our city from moving forward they need to outline for us what wasn’t done because of ethics issues. Conjecturing that Congress giving us budget autonomy is one of those things belies the fact that Congress appears no more ethical than our government with its own ten percent approval rating.

We can and must do better but a year of slurs and misleading easy attacks against each other by the plethora of candidates surely won’t help us get there.