The specific gripes Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has against the District government, as detailed in this morning’s column:
- Taxicabs will soon all be painted red.
- The signs on top of cab roofs that say “Call 911.”
- D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange has been admonished for interfering with a health inspection of a campaign donor’s allegedly rat-infested grocery store.
- D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham was found to have “abandoned his impartiality” and given preferential treatment to a developer seeking a piece of a deal with Metro.
- Someone stole most of former D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown‘s campaign funds.
- Former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown resigned after pleading guilty to bank fraud.
- Former D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is a thief, who’s now in federal prison.
- Marion Barry.
- Mayor Vince Gray is still under investigation for an alleged “shadow campaign.”
- People who speed on certain stretches of certain streets in the District have to pay fines, and since there are a lot of speeders in D.C., the city makes a lot of money in fines.
Add all that up, Milbank says, and “there is no denying the adolescent behavior in some local authorities’ whimsical approach to everything from education and ambulances to parking tickets.” So where, the Postie asks, does D.C. get off asking Congress for more autonomy to run its own affairs? “Before they can make demands of the House, D.C. officials need to get their own house in order,” Milbank says, under a headline that declares that “ending corruption would help D.C.’s case.”
You won’t find much argument here with the notion that our elected leaders, from Orange to Graham to Brown, Brown, Thomas, and Gray, have kept the U.S. Attorney and the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability busy lately (to say nothing of local investigative reporters). Or that the citizenry might be better served by electing people who aren’t quite as intimately familiar with the various services Fred Cooke Jr. can provide a politician in need.
But seriously? We should just sit back and take Florida Rep. John Mica‘s mockery of a budget autonomy referendum that won 83 percent of the vote because he thinks the D.C. government is a bunch of “teenagers?” This is the same John Mica who, according to a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has no fewer than five family members who lobby Congress and directed a $13 million earmark to a client of his daughter’s. (Also the same John Mica who has decided it’s incredibly important to move the Federal Trade Commission out of the building constructed specifically for it in 1938 in order to make more room for the National Gallery of Art, so maybe he just likes tinkering with what goes where outside of his own district.)
The complaints Milbank leads with are just plain silly; if it’s so outrageous to mandate that all taxis sport a uniform paint job, someone ought to revoke New York City‘s right to govern itself. The foibles of the D.C. Council are a legitimate point of criticism, but is Congress really the august body that should be looking down at another bunch of legislators’ misdeeds? Just since 2001, 10 members have been convicted of crimes that ranged from bribery and mail fraud to money laundering to drunk driving to manslaughter. Meanwhile, even with the D.C. Council we have, the District ran a $417 million budget surplus last year—the same fiscal year in which news that the federal budget deficit was only $1.1 trillion was greeted with joy—and 1,100 new D.C. residents are voting with their feet every month and moving to town.
And then there’s the one he closes with. These days, cities like Stockton, Calif., and Harrisburg, Pa.—the capital of the commonwealth, in case you’ve forgotten—are declaring bankruptcy without anyone suggesting that their citizens’ right to self-governance ought to be called into question. So it’s a little rich for Milbank to whine—or should I say bitch?—about speeding tickets to justify keeping D.C. subject to the whims of what his Post opinion page neighbor Robert Kaiser called, generously, “a mediocre Congress” in Sunday’s paper. (Though in fairness, Milbank couldn’t seem to decide whether he was justifying D.C.’s lack of budget autonomy or not, since he tossed in no fewer than three paragraphs noting that the District is entirely right to demand better treatment.)
You don’t want to receive one of the 61,061 speeding tickets D.C. gave out on K Street NW in the last seven months? Don’t speed. But don’t try to tell us speed cameras are an example of corruption when you spend most of your time covering an institution where no one bats an eye at former members drawing fat corporate paychecks.
After all, just because most of the Post‘s readers live in the suburbs these days doesn’t mean no one who actually lives in the District will read your column when you do.
Photo by Benjamin R. Freed