Tuesday, April 1 is the primary election day for major political offices in the District of Columbia. If you are a registered D.C. voter, please plan to vote! This election is extremely important for the future of our city. Major offices that this election will determine include the Mayor, the D.C. Delegate to Congress, and members of the D.C. Council.
Who will you vote for? If you are a citizen of D.C., surely you must have an opinion and you must make a choice. The privilege of citizenship brings with it the obligation to vote. Vote for whomever you think will best represent your interests and needs, disagree with the other candidates as much as you like, but please go to the polls and VOTE.
While the general election takes place in November, D.C.’s population consists of a large majority of registered Democrats, and the ballot for the election shows that Democratic candidates have the biggest contests. Given the current controversies in D.C. around political corruption, however, the winners on Tuesday may still face opposition in November from independent candidates. Nevertheless, historically, the winners of the Democratic primary in D.C. tend to be the final winners in November. So, in essence, the April 1 election really does determine the city’s political future.
By law, college presidents are prohibited from endorsing candidates for election to political office, so I’m not going to name any candidates here. But I can suggest some goals for D.C. that I hope the winners of the primary will lead our city to achieve:
First and foremost, the mayor and members of the D.C. Council must restore credibility and confidence in the city’s ability to govern itself honorably and with integrity. The circus of scandal has harmed our city’s reputation enormously. The longstanding desire for self-determination for D.C. — whether simply a vote in Congress or full statehood — suffers betrayal and disappointment every time a public official is indicted, arrested, jailed or cast under a heavy cloud of suspicion. It’s really not that hard to stay out of trouble, my friends! Just Say No! “No!” to the shady dealers of campaign funds and cash prizes for influence, “No!” to the abuse of power for personal gain or gain for your friends. While most major cities have plenty of incidents of scandal, the stakes are even higher in D.C. where the overlords in Congress are always poised to find fault with the local politicians. Yes, we have to work harder for respect. Yes, that’s aggravating, but it’s reality.
Second, the mayor and members of the D.C. Council must back away from threats of further disruption in the educational system. Too many politicians believe that they have some kind of right to tell school leaders how to run the system. The D.C. Public Schools have suffered generations of political interference and disruption. Yes, improvement in education is always necessary, and with Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s steady and calm leadership, D.C. is on the right track to improvement. The last thing children in D.C. need right now is more disruption in the schools.
Third, the mayor and D.C. Council need to focus significantly more attention on the problems of poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and violence that continue to plague the impoverished neighborhoods along the eastern half of the city. Economic development opportunities are great, and the revitalization of the city center is stunning. But along the edges, many children and adults are left far behind. This week’s tragic saga of the search for Relisha Rudd casts a harsh spotlight on the utterly debased conditions that too many children and families face each day. For every ribbon cutting on new buildings and every photo op with celebrities, the elected leaders should demonstrate at least two specific action steps they have taken to address poverty and its tragic consequences.
The District of Columbia remains a city divided — a city with great wealth and great poverty, high academic achievement and high adult illiteracy, booming economic development and rubble-strewn places some people still call home. Our leaders must do more to close these gaps. We need elected officials with imagination, courage and the magnetic charisma required to bring together people with the resources and brains to solve the problems of the city. Elected officials do not need to solve all the problems, themselves; leadership is the ability to organize and motivate other people to achieve results.
Whatever else you do on Tuesday, April 1, if you are a D.C. resident, please vote!