Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Corruption in City Hall?

Malcolm Lester
Good morning, Mayor!

A beloved person at the school where I work is a longtime employee known affectionately as “The Mayor.” She earned the moniker because her office sits in the center of the school, her space is the hub of activity, and she knows all.

In addition, “Mayor” connotes a dignified and elevated status, of which she is certainly worthy due to her service, work ethic, and demeanor. I joke with her that if she is the Mayor, I am a City Councilman (CCM, for short).

Recently, the Mayor and I both came under fire for our names.

“You may want to rethink being known as the Mayor and the City Councilman,” someone said. “Look at what is happening in DC. You don’t want your school to be seen that way, do you?”

There are many writers in this town who can tell you about the political scene in DC with more sophistication and nuance than I. And with one week to go before the primary, I am not ready to inject myself into a political firestorm.

If you have read a local newspaper recently, you would know that there have been allegations against the current Mayor, as well as a host of criminal offenses and allegations involving some former and current DC City Council members dating back over the past few years.

My friend’s comment suggesting we rethink our nicknames made me think about political office, leadership, and the responsibilities that go along with certain positions. At the Episcopal school where I used to work and which one of my children attends, a former Headmaster would exhort students to “take the hard right over the easy wrong.” That became a slogan there and is still repeated frequently today.

Why is it that, in this city, some of our leaders appear to take a different type of detour and end up in legal trouble or embroiled in controversy?

The answer eludes me, but as a longtime resident of Washington, DC, I am frustrated that our city leadership has become the butt of jokes and object of scorn and ridicule. It is hard to argue that such derision is not well-founded.

It is not for me to say whether some of these individuals—former city leaders as well as current ones—are innocent or guilty. What I will say is that by stepping into messy situations, or sidestepping on the edge of them, they invariably raise questions.

Every parent and educator has probably said something like this to a child: “I am not sure exactly what happened and I will give you the benefit of the doubt, but in order to remove all doubt, you just need to avoid putting yourself in that position.”

So it is with our elected officials. When doubts are raised about their behavior, a grave disservice is done to the vast majority of City Council members who are squeaky clean and have unquestioned ethics. They, among others, suffer from the alleged misdeeds of their peers.

When I walk into my school every day, I would like to be able to say “Good morning, Mayor” — and have her respond, “Right back at you, CCM” —without any sense of irony or embarrassment.

Is that too much to ask?

Malcolm Lester is the Head of School at Grace Episcopal Day School, serving students from age 3 through 5th grade in Kensington, MD. You may follow Malcolm and Grace on Twitter at @MalcolmatGrace.