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A Serious Lapse in Personal Responsibility

My reaction was sadness and disappointment when I heard about the fraud charges brought against Council Chair Kwame Brown by the U.S. Attorney’s office yesterday. Even though he brought this on himself I felt a certain sadness for his family, but also strong disappointment that another public official had committed a crime that once again took away the focus from all the great things that are going on in the District of Columbia.

I am also constantly amazed that someone like Brown who knowingly committed such an illegal act, believed that he could become a public figure and no one would find out. There is an outsized ego involved in doing that which is hard to comprehend. From discussions I have had in the last twenty-four hours it seems that there may be millions of Americans who have done the same or similar things. But unless you open yourself up to public scrutiny by running for office or trying to get an appointed public position the chances are that you will never face charges regarding these acts.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think all illegal acts shouldn’t be punished. But the fact is that so many go unnoticed because no one is looking for them. In the case of Kwame Brown I have no problem with an example being made of him and he should face the full brunt of the law.

Public officials are and should be held to a higher standard than the average citizen. They make the decision to put themselves out there as role models and ask the public for their trust. When that trust is broken it has widespread repercussions. Think of all the people that supported Mr. Brown in his elections who may now lose faith in or question all future candidates who ask for their support. Think of all the school children that Mr. Brown has spoken to over the years that have had their faith in a public official shattered. They may never think of government in the same way again. Think of Mr. Brown’s staff that will lose their jobs and wonder how they could have been so wrong in believing in their boss’s integrity.

With all this I hope that the residents of the District don’t lose faith in a government that is actually doing really well. Despite the personal transgressions of any Councilmember or campaign staff that may yet be uncovered the District of Columbia is still the envy of so many other states and cities for the progress we have and continue to make in many areas. We are moving forward aggressively with school reform; expanding bicycle lanes; have a long term plan in place for improving the environment; have a restored rainy day fund and balanced budget; have some incredibly talented people working for government including appointees like the new ethics panel the Mayor has just recommended. The District is the number one place that college graduates in the nation would like to locate; MarketWatch again listed us as the best place in the nation to do business; we have billions of dollars being spent and in the pipeline for economic development; and the list goes on and on.

I applaud the U.S. Attorney for carrying out the investigations and hope they will result in rooting out corrupt officials. But let us not forget that these investigations are about elected officials and campaigns and we shouldn’t let them tar the hard working employees of the District who are honest and come to work each day to see that the services we need are provided in a timely, safe and efficient way.