I was reading a bit about the whole Eric Massa resignation hubub, and noticed all of the local government officials that might be running for the open seat. This got me thinking about how elected officials in the District government have little to aspire to. For those on the Council, the only higher elected office would be mayor. For the mayor, that's the end of the line. Now, of course, not everyone in a city government wants to run for statewide office or Congress, but at least the potential is there. I have to wonder how that complete lack of potential affects things here in the District.
Just to be clear, of course, DC is not the only big city in the United States with corruption problems. Chicago, Detroit and others face scandals on par with or above what we have here. However, what we also have in DC seems to be a complete lack of a field of qualified and enthusiastic candidates for political office. We have a mayor who has been implicated in all sorts of unethical and possibly illegal contracting scandals, we have a Councilmember who admits to funneling city money to his girlfriends, we have other Councilmembers who are out of touch and do nothing. We have all of this, and we are in an election year, yet we've barely got a campaign for any of these offices going. The "best" hope for unseating the mayor is the Council chair, who has his own ethics problems and isn't at all excited about running.
So here's where the question comes up, is it difficult to attract people interested in public office because of the barriers to entry and the lack of higher office? All campaigns are expensive, but for someone serious about starting a political life, running for the DC Council wouldn't necessarily be impossible. But, it's sort of the end of the line. If you dream of eventually serving in Congress, you absolutely would never live in DC or run for a DC elected office. What would you do? Serve on the DC Council for a few years and then move across the river to Virginia or out to Maryland? Yeah, I'm sure your political resume will get you far over there. What we end up with is a situation where the best you can hope for is making connections to the business world for when you eventually leave office. If you are a lawyer, you can probably get a job with a law firm. Maybe you can consult.
Maybe I'm on the wrong track here, but I think this does have a non-trivial chilling effect on the pool of potential candidates. I don't like to say that I want more ambition out of politicians, but sometimes it might not be the worst thing. Aspiring to higher office means more drive to get things done, and more reason to be squeaky clean while doing it. The scandals we see coming from Barry and Fenty are the sorts that can sink a gubernatorial or senatorial campaign. I could definitely see in some other city, a young upstart sweeping in to Ward 8 trying to turn things around, aiming to then run for state legislature or Congress. With ambition, a candidate might be willing to take more risks, and challenge the status quo more. Instead, we have nothing. We have a "why bother" attitude. We've got one "federal" office, a non-elected representative. Not exactly a blockbuster position.
So what sort of options do we have here, short of throwing our hands up and abolishing the idea of elected office for the DC government? Well, of course, giving the delegate to Congress a vote might help. We'd at least have something a bit more important to aspire to.
All of this, of course, is just speculation. What do you think? Do you think there's anything to this? Do you think we could attract better candidates for political office if there was somewhere to go after the Council?