Bar none, the District of Columbia’s greatest failing over the past few decades has come from a stunning lack of political leadership.

D.C. Councilman Marion Barry’s antics, from drug abuse to alleged corruption, are really just the tip of the iceberg. Considering the spate of recent corruption scandals, it is time to clean up D.C. politics. Both students and non-students need to stand up and demand a government worthy of the capital city of the most powerful country in the world.

At the moment, almost half of the D.C. Council is being investigated for ethics abuses. For example, Council Chairman Kwame Brown continues to demand that the government pay for his $1,900-per-month car, and Mayor Vincent Gray faces allegations for paying off a mayoral challenger to criticize his opponent, former Mayor Adrian Fenty, in the last Democratic primary. And just this past January, former Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to diverting nearly $350,000 in government funds intended for youth sports programs to his own pocket.

Georgetown’s very own Councilman Jack Evans treats his job on council as part time.

Moreover, The Washington Post has reported that Evans paid over $135,000 for sports tickets over the past 10 years using constituent services funds. These loosely governed funds are supposed to help needy residents who are having trouble paying their bills. Additionally, a scandal is beginning to emerge concerning campaign contributions made by D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who was given the city’s $300 million per year Medicaid contract. Thompson also contributed significantly to Mayor Gray’s election campaign. Thompson and several councilmembers were recently subpoenaed in the case.

Already strapped for cash, D.C.’s government has a moral obligation to use tax dollars for the betterment of all, not just the politically connected.

Member of the D.C. Council rank as some of the highest paid in the nation. The residents of the District deserve councilmembers who are completely devoted to representing their constituents and who utilize their power and influence both legally and ethically.

As a result of the toxic political system that now prevails, many qualified candidates are intimidated from running for public office. Fiona Greig, a Harvard Ph.D. and McKinsey consultant, decided to end her bid for the Ward 2 councilmember position because of the alleged unethical behavior of her political opponents.

Max Skolnik is another candidate who would make a great addition to the D.C. Council. He is the executive director of the education nonprofit Kid Power D.C. In an feature printed in The Huffington Post, he insists that D.C. needs “real ethics reform that eliminates corporate building, constituent service slush funds, conflicted outside employment and influence-buying donations from lobbyists and contractors.” He is the kind of person the District needs. Those in power think they can stop bright-eyed reformers aimed at genuinely attacking what ails the city. It’s time to prove the establishment wrong.

D.C. residents can’t afford to be fatalistic about the quality of their government. The District continues to suffer from an AIDS epidemic, and income and racial disparities are only increasing, with average income of whites nearly three times that of African Americans. A sad irony of the District’s affairs is that its challenges are some of the greatest in the United States, yet at the same time, its political leadership has been so lacking.

So what can be done from the Hilltop to improve this mess? Well, students can begin to stand up and demand accountable local government. This means becoming engaged in local politics and supporting candidates who stand for a new generation of political leadership.

Considering the abundance of college students in D.C., we can play a tremendous role in advocating for a cleaner and more transparent local government.

When talking about enhancing organizational transparency, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that sunshine is the best disinfectant. The best way to eliminate endemic local corruption is by making politics more open through pushing comprehensive ethics reform and electing a new generation of D.C. political leaders.

Scott Stirrett is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the former chief of staff of the Georgetown University College Democrats and former chair and co-founder of D.C. Students Speak. A CANADIAN CONTENTION appears every other Friday.

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