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Commentary: Council Corruption Should Not Impede D.C. Rights

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Ilir Zherka is executive director of DC Vote.

Just hours after pleading guilty to federal bank fraud, the former chairman of the D.C. Council entered another guilty plea today, this time in D.C. Superior Court. Kwame Brown, who resigned earlier this week, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation stemming from his 2008 campaign. Brown is the second D.C. Council member to resign this year, and that has led to speculation about possible fallout on Capitol Hill.  Some question whether corruption investigations will jeopardize efforts to secure budget autonomy or voting rights for the District.

Commentator Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, says there is no reason for Congress to punish the people of DC for the personal failings of elected leaders:

In the past decade two former governors of Illinois checked into prison for abusing the powers of their office. And guess what? No one in Congress was talking about denying Illinois citizens their inalienable rights as Americans to a vote in Congress.

And what did Congress do to the limit the rights of people in California, Indiana, and Nevada when Represenatives Duke Cunningham, Mark Souder and Sen. John Ensign resigned in disgrace?

Nothing.

That's because in these cases, Congress recognized the power to address public corruption resides ultimately with the American citizens who live in local jurisdictions.

Regrettably, some in Congress will point to the recent personal failings of District leaders to argue that D.C. residents do not deserve self-determination and representation in Congress. But, surely, the basic rights of Washingtonians cannot be earned or lost based on the bad behavior of elected officials.

These rights are inalienable. They belong to the people of the District of Columbia as citizens of the United States.

District residents aren't asking for special treatment.

Like other jurisdictions that have suffered through the personal failures of their leaders, the District government is moving forward with a well-established process under the Home Rule Charter. Like other Americans, the people of the District will set a new direction — through elections.

In the meantime, Congress should back off of plans to place restrictions on the way the people of the District of Columbia spend their locally-raised tax dollars. Those who cynically view this challenging time for the District as an opening for further restricting D.C. self-determination are blindly abandoning the core ideals of this nation.

Washingtonians have weathered scandals over the years, just like other Americans. As with the past scandals, these recent ones shall recede. What will remain is a vibrant district that is growing and still demanding a full seat at the table of American democracy.

Ilir Zherka is the executive director of DC Vote — an advocacy group working to secure voting representation in Congress for District residents. Let us know what you think in the comments.

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