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A call to action
(Published November 28, 2005)

As the 2006 election campaign season begins, D.C. residents who plan to stay rooted in their city should be worried about what kind of community they will be living in during the next decades.

Ironically, as an excellent Washington Post investigative article on city purchasing practices pointed out Nov. 27, the congressional control board era of 10 years ago, which spawned an independent chief financial officer and the mayoral career of former CFO Tony Williams, has resulted in rampant favoritism. Such cronyism, which the Williams administration’s new era of "accountability" was supposed to stop, has cost taxpayers millions unnecessarily, allowing contracts to be handed out to the friends of politicians and bureaucrats at inflated rates while experienced local businesses were often passed over.

As the Post also noted, city officials are paying to have computer software altered to remove the built-in safeguards against sweetheart government contracting – thereby institutionalizing the practice as a standard operating procedure, which violates the spirit and sometimes the letter of the law.

That’s what happens when the public puts its blind trust in the words of politicians. It’s been a long time since anyone has heard Mayor Williams talk about "accountability" in the government he heads and few have suffered any real consequences when their wayward actions could not be ignored. And when public exposure has raised questions about the mayor’s own involvement – remember his solicitation of a city contractor for a contribution during the nonprofit scandal and his 2002 election petition fraud? – improprieties quickly have been swept under a rug.

From Shepherd Park to Washington Highlands and from Palisades to Woodridge and in every one of the District’s dozens of other distinct neighborhoods, residents of all socioeconomic classes want many of the same things – including safe and clean streets, affordable housing, good schools and libraries, accessible transportation, reliable emergency services and convenient shopping opportunities for at least basic necessities.

For too long, elected public servants have been allowed by the electorate to make excuses for their failure to properly shepherd city resources and enact appropriate legislation to ensure that the D.C. government serves all of Washington’s residents equally well. Blaming "the market" for shortcomings is among the most spurious of politicians’ claims. The marketplace, as they well know, is often shaped largely by government actions.

Experience has shown that replacing publicly provided government services, under direct public control and oversight, with private service contracts has become one of the biggest scams perpetrated upon the taxpaying public. The practice generally hasn’t worked as it was originally sold to the public by politicians – as a way to reduce the cost and size of government while significantly improving the levels of service. Instead, contracting-out has merely become a primary vehicle for politicians to reward their friends and associates.

The 2006 political campaign offers D.C. residents a fresh chance to demand good government – and to stop falling for the ploys of politicians, who continually slice and dice city residents’ common concerns to pit neighborhood against neighborhood rather than unifying the public in embracing a common vision for the entire city.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator