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Commentary
A new year, another election season
(Published January 9, 2006)

By BILL MOSLEY

Now that 2006 has arrived, the time has come to think about taking down the decorations, throwing out the Christmas tree, preparing for Martin Luther King Day events and bracing ourselves for another campaign for mayor of the District of Columbia.

Every even year features an election in the District, but when the office of mayor is being contested the electioneering takes on a special urgency especially when there is no incumbent in the race. Two-term Mayor Tony Williams has declined to toss his bow tie into the ring again, making next year's race a wide-open affair.

Indeed, the campaign is already started. The contenders whose ranks include D.C. City Council Chairman Linda Cropp, council members Adrian Fenty and Vincent Orange, lobbyist Michael Brown, former telecommunications executive Marie Johns and perennial candidate Faith have already debated each other. Yard signs are sprouting like mushrooms, and those who regard themselves as political players are already jumping on their chosen bandwagons.

One issue about which the candidates have said little, if anything, is how they will use the office of mayor to advance the cause of full democracy for the District. One exception is Fenty who, after the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit seeking to overturn a congressional ban on the District's instituting a commuter tax, proposed a citizen referendum on the issue. While Fenty was speaking more as a council member than taking a stand in the mayoral race, he no doubt is embracing the commuter tax issue to enhance his visibility across the District. Mayor Williams dismissed the referendum idea as "silly" and a publicity stunt.

Regardless the merits of Fenty's proposal, it beats doing nothing a lesson the mayor should take to heart. Williams is hardly in the position of throwing stones at any reasonable proposal to move forward the cause of D.C. democracy since, as I've written in these pages, his record on the subject has been abysmal. When he first took office, Williams abandoned the sometimes confrontational stance of former mayors Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt Kelly in favor of winning the hearts and minds of Congress through good management and fiscal prudence. This strategy got off to a promising start. Shortly after Williams took office, Congress largely restored to the D.C. government the limited self-rule it had held (I hesitate to say "enjoyed") prior to the so-called Revitalization Act of 1997 (with the exception of our courts and prisons, which remain under federal rule).

But now, after seven years, a string of balanced budgets and a booming local economy, what has Congress done to reward the District for its good behavior? Practically nothing. Oh, there have been a few bones: In 2002 Congress allowed us to implement our domestic partnership law after holding it up for 10 years, and for the past three years it has allowed the local portion of the D.C. budget to go into effect at the beginning of the fiscal year, rather than bottling it up indefinitely in the federal appropriations process. But voting representation in Congress? Effective budget and legislative autonomy? Forget about it. Statehood? In your dreams. Unless Williams pulls a rabbit out of his Nationals cap in the next 12 months, he'll leave office with a score of F-minus for winning democratic rights for his constituents.

So it's incumbent on D.C. residents who recognize the importance of being treated as full citizens not only as a symbolic issue but for its impact on the people's social and economic well-being to be sure that the candidates for mayor are forced to address how they would advance the cause of full democracy. There will be no end of forums, meet-and-greets and other opportunities to put them on the spot. Of course, all the candidates will volunteer that they put full democratic rights alongside mom and apple pie, but the real question is not how much they love democracy but specifically what they'll do to bring it about. Some questions we should ask (and this is hardly an exhaustive list):

n What goal should the District pursue in terms of democratic rights statehood, voting representation in both houses in Congress, voting representation in one house or something else? How would you use your office to achieve that goal?

· What specifically have you done in the past to advance the cause of democracy for the District and how does that compare to the rest of the candidates?

· Do you regard democracy for the District as primarily a symbolic issue, or one critical to the well-being of the citizens? If the latter, how?

· How do you rank achieving democracy for the District among issues in the campaign high, low or somewhere in the middle? If it's not your number-one issue, what ranks higher?

· How do you judge Mayor Williams' efforts to advance the cause of democracy? What would you do differently?

· Mayor Kelly was arrested during an early 1990s statehood demonstration. Would you be willing to engage in civil disobedience for the cause of local democracy? Why or why not?

· Would you lend the mayor's office to building and supporting a grassroots movement to demand full democracy for the District? If so, how specifically would you support such a movement?

· To what extent would you use such vehicles as the National League of Cities (of which Williams served as president last year) and the National Conference of Mayors to advance the issue?

So it's time for advocates of full democracy for D.C. to watch the campaign calendar and show up, questions at the ready, wherever the candidates go. Full democratic rights for the District should be the first issue the candidates address, not the last.

***

Mosley is a member of the Stand Up! For Democracy in D.C. Coalition. Contact him at bill@thecommondenominator.com.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator