Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Ethics

Politics


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.

Politics


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!

Politics


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.

Government


Endorsements for DC citywide races and ballot questions

While the Democratic primary most often determines office-holders in the District of Columbia, there is a serious race on the November ballot for a seat on the DC Council, alongside a number of other races.


Photo by afagen on Flickr.

In the District, we endorse David Grosso for Council at-large, Phil Mendelson for chairman, Nate Bennett-Fleming for shadow representative, and yes votes on the 3 charter amendments.

Greater Greater Washington makes endorsements through a poll of contributors, and we only weigh in when there is a clear consensus for one candidate or position as well as a clear feeling that making an endorsement is worthwhile. The contributors decided not to endorse in ward races, State Board of Education, or shadow senator this year.

Voters will also have the opportunity to choose ANC commissioners, a position which often carries significant influence over neighborhood affairs. There are many great candidates across the city, including Greater Greater Washington editor Jaime Fearer in Trinidad's district 5D07.

DC Council at-large: We recommend voting for David Grosso.

Congress' grant of home rule to the District included a provision that limited how many candidates can be members of the same party, which in practice means that one at-large seat every 2 years goes to one individual who is not formally affiliated with the Democratic Party. We hope voters choose David Grosso over incumbent Michael A. Brown.

More than anything, the DC Council needs stable, ethical leadership at this time. Mr. Grosso has embraced openness and transparency by disclosing any corporate interests that have donated to his campaign. By contrast, whether any laws were broken or not, Mr. Brown's record is marred by a series of personal missteps and questionably ethical political actions.

Michael Brown has been a staunch supporter of many important policies for affordable housing, workforce development and other poverty-related issues. However, when it comes to building healthy and walkable urban places, Mr. Brown simply does not seem to understand the issues beyond a narrow and out-of-date suburban mindset. He pushed for a Redskins training facility on Reservation 13, sent a letter echoing many alarmist and often false fears about the zoning update, wants to spend public money on municipal parking, and more.

Mary Brooks Beatty, the Republican candidate, has proven even worse, voicing the tired "war on cars" theme during a recent debate. After nominating an avowedly pro-urban candidate 4 years ago, it's too bad the DC GOP's standard-bearer is so out of touch with the changing District.

Mr. Grosso, meanwhile, supports better bicycle infrastructure, removing minimum parking requirements, and also wants to shore up funding for affordable housing. Tommy Wells, the DC Council's most ardent voice for smart growth, has thrown his weight behind Grosso, as has the DC chapter of the Sierra Club.

District voters have the opportunity to cast 2 votes. For Mr. Grosso to win, he will have to place in the top 2; most expect that Vincent Orange, the Democratic nominee, will gain the most votes, and that the 2nd will come down to Mr. Grosso or Mr. Brown.

There are also a number of other candidates running, several of whom have promise, such as AJ Cooper, our 2nd highest vote-getter in our contributor poll, but none received a clear consensus required for a formal endorsement. However, voters can certainly use a 2nd vote for one of these other candidates without fear of upsetting their top choice's chances to win.

DC Council chairman: We recommend voting for Phil Mendelson.

Mr. Mendelson is well suited to bring order and credibility to a damaged DC Council. His record of ethics is impeccable, and he is well-positioned to get the council working together collaboratively instead of fracturing into warring factions as it did under former Chairman Kwame Brown.

Some council staffers say that Mr. Mendelson will need to work on shifting his attention to the big picture issues rather than the narrow, often nitpicking hyper-attention to detail he has become known for. He also continues to lean toward sympathy with those who don't want to see the District change or grow much at all. Zoning is not the council's purview, and since becoming chairman he has stayed away from taking a position on such issues that won't come before that body. However, voters need to keep careful watch on this issue.

Shadow representative: We recommend voting for Nate Bennett-Fleming.

The shadow representative is an unpaid position whose purpose is to lobby for District voting rights. Current shadow representative Mike Panetta is not seeking reelection, and we hope District voters will choose Nate Bennett-Fleming.

Mr. Bennett-Fleming brings a youthful energy to District politics. He is able to work and talk with people from all over the cityrich and poor, young and old, black and white, advantaged and disadvantaged. The shadow representative is a relatively thankless position, but it needs someone with the vigor to stir things up and push for equal representation. Mr. Bennett-Fleming's political science background and law degree will also help him know what can work and what can't, instead of pushing for absolutely unworkable ideas.

Ballot questions: We recommend voting FOR all 3 charter amendments.

The proposed charter amendments will officially empower the DC Council to expel a member for gross misconduct, and disqualify any candidates with a felony conviction while in office from serving as councilmember or mayor.

Each of these takes a small step toward improving the laws around ethics in DC. They leave many ethics issues unresolved, and most DC leaders have been reluctant to take the stronger steps necessary to bring more substantial ethical reform to city politics, but these are a step in the right direction.

Update: The original version of the endorsement said that 2 charter amendments disqualify any candidate with a felony conviction from holding office. In fact, they only disqualify candidates who have gotten that felony conviction while in office, which makes the amendments even less meaningful as ethics reforms, but still worth voting for.

These are the official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors discussed endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong consensus in favor of endorsing for or against each issue or candidate.

Government


Super PACs in DC? The evidence doesn't support the fears

DC has an opportunity to clean up its elections and restore public trust in District leaders with a ballot initiative, but some are arguing that a ban on corporate contributions to campaigns would just trigger super PACs. The evidence says otherwise. In states that have banned the same practice for decades, super PACs have not played any meaningful role.


Photo by ChristopherSchmitt.com on Flickr.

Ballot Initiative 70 would ban business organizations from contributing to candidates for public office in the District of Columbia, including the widespread practice where multiple LLCs with the same owners make separate contributions. DC voters will have the chance to weigh in this fall if campaigners gather enough signatures in the next few weeks.

After yesterday's Supreme Court ruling striking down a provision in Montana, several people asked whether Initiative 70 could fall as well. But the Montana rule applied to independent political expenditures, not direct contributions, and direct contributions are already illegal in 21 states and in federal campaigns. There's no reason to believe a DC law like Initiative 70 would face any constitutional issues.

Another line of attack holds that banning direct contributions will just push corporations to use super PACs to influence DC elections. Jack Evans, an official with strong fundraising from corporations, has leveled this criticism, and today professional political operative Chuck Thies espoused it as well.

Super PACs are all the rage these days on the federal electoral scene. Corporations use them to channel unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose political candidates. But super PACs have not played any substantial role in local or state elections where direct corporate contributions have been illegal for many years. Instead, with the exception of one outlier, they have played no role at all.

A larger and more conservative neighbor, Pennsylvania, has had a statewide ban on corporate contributions for decades, long before Citizens United. This ban covers every state elected official from the governor down to lowliest state representative, but you would be hard pressed to find a single super PAC contribution to expenditure on behalf of any state candidate.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, another state that has banned corporate contributions since long before Citizens United, you'll find the same thing. Nothing. There is no evidence of a single super PAC contributing to supporting a non-federal candidate.

The list goes on. North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, and Iowa to name a few. All prohibit corporate contributions, but none have had any super PAC involvement with state candidates.

Wisconsin is the only outlier. There, anti-labor Republican Governor Scott Walker faced an ultimately unsuccessful recall effort in a battle that madeand at times dominatednational headlines as a fight between pro- and anti-worker forces. This highly charged and highly symbolic fight attracted the attention of super PACs.

But to call Wisconsin an outlier is an understatement given the charged and symbolic nature of the recall effort there. It is unlikely in the extreme that such a situation would replicate itself here in DC. The super PAC phenomenon created by Citizens United that has been limited to high-profile federal elections, not state or local contests. Even many, if not most federal candidates never come into contact with super PACs.

Politicians and pundits who cite this issue are doing little more than fear-mongering. Many benefit personally from the current status quo, because they have a fundraising advantage today thanks to corporate contributions or work for candidates who pay their salaries with such money.

These folks are not willing to seek help for their addiction to corporate cash or to help restore public trust in the District. The voters should pay them no heed.

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