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D.C. needs leadership

(Published September 9, 2002)

It is ironic that the most political city in the United States can't seem to get its own political act together. The debacle that this year's primary election campaign has produced speaks volumes about why the D.C. government, despite repeated attempts at reform, can't seem to function at a level that anyone except its managers might dare describe as efficient.

Government is about process.

Politics is about leadership.

It takes good leaders to produce good government.

A political establishment that fails abysmally at successfully managing its own organizational affairs - and at involving the public in exercising their democratic rights - gives citizens little promise of being able to produce the leadership necessary to run an entire government well.

However depressing this year's primary election campaign may be to the District's current crop of so-called political leaders, D.C. voters should be encouraged that the mayor's failure to get listed on the Democratic primary ballot has created a need to educate voters about write-in candidates.

On the Democratic ballot, voters are being urged through expensive advertising efforts to write in the name of either Mayor Anthony A. Williams or the Rev. Willie F. Wilson. On the Republican ballot, which contains no candidate for mayor, voters are being urged by GOP officials - through low-profile efforts, but being urged nonetheless - to write in the name of At-Large Councilwoman Carol Schwartz.

The message to voters is a good lesson in democracy: In an election, you can write in the name of anyone you want to select as your representative. When the votes are counted, it doesn't matter whether the winner's name was pre-printed on the ballot. What matters in the end is who got the most votes.

When all the votes are counted from the Sept. 10 primary, D.C. voters should not be lulled into thinking that they have already elected their government's leaders. Primary elections are a little bit like the National Football League playoffs - the Super Bowl is still down the road.

In terms of D.C. elections, the Super Bowl is the Nov. 5 general election.

Not all D.C. voters are eligible to vote in primaries; only registered Democrats, Republicans and D.C. Statehood Green party members are allowed to vote, and they may vote only for candidates within their own party. While members of these three political parties make up the majority of registered D.C. voters, voters are allowed to vote for anyone - regardless of their party membership - in November. And they can write in someone whose name is not printed on the ballot then, as well.

If this message makes the District's political establishment a bit uneasy, it should.

The District's so-called leaders need to stop spending so much time looking in the mirror that they forget to look down the road to see which direction we're headed.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator