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Posts about Ethics


Will vote-splitting help Vincent Orange win again?

Vincent Orange has been a terrible at-large member of the DC Council. David Garber is running to unseat him in the coming Democratic primary, and now there are reports that Robert White will jump in as well. Can DC avoid the vote-splitting that has stymied reformers' past electoral efforts?

Photo by Sheila Sund on Flickr.

In his last primary in 2012, Orange faced a crowded field of challengers. In the end, Orange won the nomination with 42% of the vote. Sekou Biddle got 39%, Peter Shapiro 11%, and E. Gail Anderson Holness 8%.

Many voters, including a lot from the Greater Greater Washington community, were torn between Biddle and Shapiro, both of whom would have been good councilmembers in their own right, not to mention far better than Orange.

The same thing happened in the special election the previous year, when Orange got into office with 29% of the vote versus 25% for Patrick Mara, 20% for Sekou Biddle, and 13% for Bryan Weaver, all of whom, again, would have been good councilmembers.

What's so bad about Orange?

Vincent Orange made headlines in 2013 for intervening to stop public health officials from shutting down a wholesale food business with a rat infestation.

Orange was admonished by the then-new ethics board. He was the first public official to face sanction by the board, which was created after multiple councilmembers resigned for ethical issues spanning a spectrum up to outright corruption.

Orange has a poor record on housing and transportation as well. He rushed to propose a blanket moratorium on homeowners adding onto their homes or renting out parts of their houses in row house zones. His overly broad (and likely illegal) bill would have exacerbated DC's housing crunch and shut the doors to new residents.

When the council was hotly debating whether to tax out-of-state bonds, Orange agreed to support an amendment by Tommy Wells on the condition that Wells would agree to set aside $500,000 for an Emancipation Day parade at the Lincoln Theatre, whose board Orange serves on.

David Garber. Image from the candidate's website.

Will the field narrow before the primary?

At David Garber's campaign kickoff, supporters likened him to Brianne Nadeau, who took out long-serving Ward 1 member Jim Graham in part by focusing on Graham's scrapes with ethics issues.

Nadeau also had one more advantage: a clearer field. She was able to build up a strong enough campaign that others decided not to run as well.

That's now not going to be the case. Personally, I like both Garber and White and would love to see both on the council. But I worry that both will draw from overlapping, though not identical, bases of support, again threatening a vote split.

Robert White. Image from the candidate's Facebook page.

Absent technology to fuse the two into a super duper "Dobert Warber," either one of them would have to singlehandedly amass more votes than Orange, or convince the other to drop out of the race either early or late in the process. (Or the DC Council could institute instant runoff voting or some similar system, though that's very unlikely to happen in time, if at all.)

In places with real competition between two parties, primaries serve this role. There's a vote, and most of the time the loser of a primary goes and supports the winner in that same party. But everyone's a Democrat this time. In some places, like California, the primary is nonpartisan, and the top two winners go on to the general even if both are Democrats or Republicans. We don't have that either.

In a presidential primary, the series of state primaries and caucuses helps winnow the field by demonstrating which candidates have real electoral strength and which don't. DC also does not have any kind of rotating set of ward primaries.

What could narrow the field?

What to do? We need some sort of mechanism for fairly identifying one who has the better electoral strength, whether through polls or some other method. Both candidates should then take a pledge that whichever one wins this kind of pre-primary will go up against Orange one-on-one.

To get candidates to sign on, voters, volunteers, and donors also need to agree only to support a candidate who himself signs the pledge and/or to ultimately support the pre-primary winner.

If I had more time, I'd try to meet with candidates, political operatives, big donors, and others behind the scenes to push this idea. But I don't, so I'll just write it on a blog. What do you think?


For DC Council: Elissa Silverman

DC voters will choose an at-large member of the DC Council in a special election on April 23. While there has been fairly little coverage of the race or candidates' positions, the choice voters make in this likely low-turnout election will have a major impact on many important issues to District residents. We believe that Elissa Silverman is the best choice.

Image from the candidate's website.

We believe that our leaders should devote much of our city's monetary prosperity to two goals: economic growth that furthers that prosperity, and efforts to truly help those most in financial need to ensure they are not left behind. Ms. Silverman has a very strong track record in this area.

DC has unfortunately had a recent string of elected officials who have instead funneled money to people with connections to those in power in the city government. Their influence ultimately enriches those in power. Ms. Silverman has a clear commitment to reforming government ethics from her work advancing DC's Initiative 70, the recent proposed ballot initiative.

Ms. Silverman embraces transit, mixed-use zoning, and the need especially to safeguard pedestrians now that the city is more walkable every year. She emphasizes the need to encourage more housing units for families as many of the young people who have moved to the District begin families and want to remain in the District's walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented neighborhoods.

Thanks to her journalism background, Ms. Silverman has demonstrated that she can ask very penetrating questions on policy details. When talking with editors about issues such as the zoning update, for instance, she probed much more deeply into the effects and tradeoffs than other candidates or even many advocates.

She has said that she wants to turn this skill toward oversight of District agencies such as DCRA; this would be an invaluable asset to residents who find agencies often papering over inefficiency. She has advocated reforming DCRA to make it easier for District residents to open businesses as well.

Matthew Frumin scored very well on Let's Choose DC, most often slightly ahead of Ms. Silverman and sometimes slightly behind. Mr. Frumin has made very valuable contributions to the District through his civic efforts, such as building coalitions on the Tenleytown ANC. However, we feel he still faces significant challenges to connecting with voters outside of upper Northwest. This will not only be a prerequisite to win but a necessary component to being an at-large councilmember.

Mr. Frumin also has less detailed knowledge of the District government's operations and major policies outside of a few areas of strength such as education. While being an expert is not mandatory for a new council candidate, with Ms. Silverman in the race, her greater expertise is a strong asset. The winner of this race will have to instantly start participating in budget negotiations and then continue to operate on the council while almost immediately running for re-election in the April 2014 primary.

We hope Mr. Frumin will continue participating on the citywide stage in other ways following the campaign, and has strong potential to be a top-tier candidate in a future at-large race once he has built more connections and experience working with neighborhood leaders citywide.

Patrick Mara has garnered some significant support in DC based on his recent races and repeated endorsements from the Washington Post. David Alpert also endorsed Mr. Mara in his previous race (against Michael Brown, who is running again this year). However, he has not shown the depth that one would expect from a repeated candidate, and did not answer several Let's Choose DC questions.

The Washington Post's endorsement last week largely centered around his views on cutting taxes and school reform. We don't disagree with charter schools or school reform by any means, but feel that education in the District needs more analysis into what actually works instead of blind ideology. Mr. Mara has made education a centerpiece of his campaign, but when pressed, hasn't been able to actually put forth compelling insights on the matter.

Michael Brown has a strong commitment to helping the less fortunate, such as his stalwart defense of affordable housing which was very welcome on the council. However, Mr. Brown has repeatedly made clear that he is skeptical of a growing city and is very quick to side with the residents most afraid of change, such as with his response on the DC zoning update at Let's Choose DC or his letter of "concern" almost a year ago.

Mr. Brown was the only candidate to oppose several avenues of ethics reform on that question on Let's Choose. Financial mismanagement problems such as unpaid rent continue to dog Mr. Brown, as did malfeasance by his previous campaign treasurer, even though there has not been any evidence that he himself violated campaign finance laws.

Anita Bonds has not chosen to engage with our community by only responding to one Let's Choose DC question. While we didn't want to prejudge her longtime ties to much of DC's machine power structure, she has not availed herself of opportunities to demonstrate her independence from that machine or policy reasons to support her. She also initially promised to serve as a full-time councilmember, but has since backed off that commitment.

Perry Redd and Paul Zukerberg have valuable perspectives to contribute, and we also agree with Mr. Zukerberg's core message that excessive prosecution of minor drug offenses creates a dangerous environment with too many young people having criminal records at huge expense to taxpayers. We hope both will continue to participate in civic discourse and that the DC Council will take up marijuana decriminalization soon.

Voters considering themselves "urbanists," "progressives," or just "reformers" have seen their votes split in several recent elections, including the last two for at-large council. A number of civic and business leaders have lined up behind Ms. Silverman, including respected top Fenty administration officials like Neil Albert and Victor Reinoso, and we hope that all residents will do the same and elect her to the DC Council on April 23.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active regular contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the candidate.

Disclosures: Elissa Silverman also submitted 4 guest articles to Greater Greater Washington in 2011 and 2012. We had also specifically invited Patrick Mara (after previous campaigns) and Matthew Frumin (before the current campaign) to submit guest posts, in keeping with our general policy of encouraging guest posts from many people active in local affairs. Also, Ken Archer, who serves as Silverman's treasurer, is a Greater Greater Washington editor. He did not vote in the internal poll or write any of this endorsement.


Brown bombs on ethics; Silverman edges Frumin

Only 2.5% of voters gave Michael Brown positive marks for his response on ethics this week on Let's Choose DC (a partnership of Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville). Elissa Silverman took the top spot in your judgment, with Matthew Frumin second.

We asked the candidates to give their positions on 6 ethics proposals:

  • Ban or limit outside employment
  • Eliminate or constrain constituent service funds
  • Ban corporate contributions to campaigns
  • Ban "bundling" from multiple entities controlled by same person
  • Ban contributions by contractors and/or lobbyists who do business with DC
  • Forbid free or discounted legal services, travel gifts, sports tickets for councilmembers
Silverman touted her work on Initiative 70 pushing to enshrine the third of these into law. She, Frumin, Patrick Mara, John Settles, and Michael Brown all also endorsed public financing of elections. Paul Zukerberg explicitly opposed it; while we don't know why voters chose as they did, perhaps most of you disagreed and that contributed to his 6th place finish.

Michael Brown, meanwhile, opposed banning outside employment and changes to constituent service funds. He also did not address the proposals involving monetary or in-kind campaign contributions. As a consequence, 47% of you said he did not answer the question while giving him the lowest finish of any candidate on any question thus far on Let's Choose DC.

This week, we're asking about school truancy. See the responses and vote now!


Candidates take a stand on ethics proposals

We've heard a lot of ideas for rules that will clean up DC's political culture, from the backers of Initiative 70, from multiple DC councilmembers, and from citizen groups like DC for Democracy. What do our at-large candidates think?

Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

This week, Let's Choose DC, a partnership of Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville, asked the candidates running in the April 23 special election to take a stand on 6 proposals from last year:

  • Ban or limit outside employment
  • Eliminate or constrain constituent service funds
  • Ban corporate contributions to campaigns
  • Ban "bundling" from multiple entities controlled by the same person
  • Ban contributions by contractors and/or lobbyists who do business with DC
  • Forbid free or discounted legal services, travel gifts, sports tickets for councilmembers

We asked the candidates to explain whether they were for or against each proposal, along with any explanation they wished to give and any other proposals besides these 6 which they would push for if elected. Perry Redd, Elissa Silverman, Matthew Frumin, Michael Brown, Paul Zukerberg, John Settles, and Patrick Mara submitted responses. Anita Bonds' campaign manager expressed interest in responding but did not yet submit something.

You can see and rate responses (starting with a randomly-selected candidate) now. Some candidates specifically addressed each of the proposals in their responses, while a few did not appear to specifically take a stand on each as the question asked. When you rate the responses, please factor that in to your rating on whether, or how fully, the candidate answered the question.

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