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The Other Side of the Tracks blog by Word Press

Thieves In the Temple

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary

July 12, 2011

By Perry Redd

There’s a constituency of Americans who are not being served by their elected leaders with the degree of integrity vowed to by those leaders. I’d like to think that I can pin this occurrence down to my hometown, but unfortunately, it’s the storm cloud in The American Dream. Washington, DC is simply carrying the mantle this week for “Most Corrupt Elected Leaders in America.” Wouldn’t be so bad if these criminals were “mainstream” politicians, but these thieves are Black people-serving Black people.

It’s clear to me that corruption transcends race. It’s just that you usually hear of fiscal graft coming from whites. I mean, the country has more
whites and they usually have greater access to the money, so naturally, they would steal more of it. But I am focusing on these elected leaders, because they serve a constituency in most need of their service. In times of economic recession, the lowest on the food chain need those who you believe would be most vigilant in safeguarding safety net resources.

Barely six months into a new administration, our mayor, Vincent Gray, came out of the box with accusations of corruption against him, temming from his mayoral campaign, and involving bribery of an opponent and a quid pro quo deal. The District of Columbia has been racked with revelations of irresponsible acts by members on the second highest paid legislative municipal body in the nation. Of our 13-member city council, six of the members are white, yet whites are less than 40% of the population…but I’ll come back to that later.

We have one member currently under federal investigation for misappropriation of funds. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. arranged to have more than $300,000 in public funds diverted to groups he controlled, and used the money as a lavish personal account, purchasing an Audi SUV and taking trips to Las Vegas and Pebble Beach among other things.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s 2008 campaign for a second term as an at-large council member, failed to report contributions and expenditures totaling more than $270,000. Brown ran unopposed in that campaign. This is now a federally investigated issue we’ve got on our hands. An audit also found that the campaign passed $239,000 to a company owned by Brown’s brother, via a now-defunct consulting firm. So where’s the money? A subsequent complaint alleges that Brown’s campaign had failed to register a $60,000 bank account that his brother controlled. As he campaigned for the 2010 Chairmanship of the Council, this guy was responding to reports of tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Brown owed a Texas-based collections agency $5,661.43 for unpaid debt on a Citibank credit card. Though he couldn’t manage his own financial affairs, we still allowed him to manage the city’s and to accept the top legislative position.

A few weeks after Brown was elected Council Chair in November of last year, he asked city officials to order for him a “fully loaded” Lincoln
Navigator L with a DVD entertainment system, power moonroof and polished aluminum wheels. It had to be all Black inside and out and it had to arrive in time for his inauguration on January 2nd. Later, when asked on television why taxpayers should foot the $1,900-a-month lease payments, Brown said he had merely requested a Black sport-utility vehicle and was driving the vehicle that the District had procured for him. He lied. As it happened, the District was stuck paying for two Lincoln Navigator L’s after the first arrived with a gray interior and Brown was insisted on the black-on-black color scheme. Who does he think he is…John Gotti? Of course, I want him removed.

But that’s not the topping on the cake. What’s so bad about the Chairman’s irresponsibility is that his replacement would be the current Chair
Pro Tempore-Council Member Mary Che…a white woman. Now, I’m all for women leading the charge in any arena, but in a predominantly Black city, I strongly argue that Blacks should control the affairs that affect them.

Then, we’ve got the issue of the phones at Ward 7 Council Member Yvette Alexander’s constituent services office that were turned off because the office ran up $5,388.68 in unpaid phone bills to Verizon. She’s currently under investigation for commingling campaign and constituent service funds, as well as failure to report and exceeding the limits on in-kind donations. She’s also accused of paying reduced rents on a private office (the city provides free space) in exchange for legislation that would benefit her landlord. If that’s not enough, Alexander’s alleged to have benefited personally from funds raised to serve the needy.

Now, keep in mind that Republicans in Congress are seeking to cut safety net budgets targeted for states and municipalities, including DC. Whenever that happens, guess who hurts the most? You got it. Black folks. So why would we, as an electorate, allow the people who are in positions to serve us to also steal from us?

Our Council Member Alexander, who last year questioned record-keeping practices and called for an audit of a nonprofit group, has refused to provide records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request to explain her use of funds for the poor. Her expenditures include thousands of dollars to her treasurer, a Wal-Mart consultant, who city records show operates an unregistered company that also received constituent service funds at his Southeast Washington apartment. Help me understand how an elected official can do this and not go to
jail for theft?

All of this misconduct while the District had a projected $400 million budget shortfall. And just like the national budget battle, the first thing
lawmakers look to in order to close the budget gap, is money appropriated to aid the poor. Funny how we battled for tax increases on the richest Washingtonians-and they’re a bunch-and this same council voted against it.

Distinct from many currently majority-Black cities, Washington has had a significant Black population since the city’s creation. Blacks make up just over half of the city’s population (down from 70% in the 1970’s) where the new white gentry make up 38.5%. Again, in a predominantly Black city, I strongly argue that Blacks should control the affairs that affect them. But if they act like fools, mismanage their charge and steal the people’s money, they not only should lose their jobs but go to jail as part of the cleansing process.

I know many people who’ve been sent directly to jail-without passing “go”-for stealing a helluva lot less. Yes, I’m calling for arrests. Let’s not
forget the eight former Bell, California officials who were arrested, including former City Manager Robert Rizzo, whose nearly $800,000 salary ignited a furor over public pay and pensions across the state. The theft is right before our eyes, and in the words of a scholarly poet, Prince: “there’re thieves in the temple tonight.” It’s not too much to act like Jesus and “cleanse the temple.”


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