Mike DeBonis


How Race Shapes Responses to Political Scandals

Do black politicians face greater scrutiny from the public while getting a free pass from some segments of the black community? Bill Lightfoot — a “squeaky clean” former D.C. councilman  — spoke with The Georgetown Dish about the role race plays some of the District’s current ethics scandals:

We have allegations that Councilmember Evans, white, has misused his constituent services funds.  We have allegations that Councilmember Jim Graham, who is white from Ward 1, was aware that a staffmember attempted to bribe him but did not report the bribe and he did not punish the staffmember.  That would certainly seem to implicate certain ethical rules that are in the existing law. We have allegations that Harry Thomas stole money from the DC Government and has now had to repay it and he’s a Black from Ward 5.  There were allegations that Yvette Alexander, from Ward 7, a Black councilmember, misused constituent services funds; allegations that Michael Brown, has been engaged in a conflict of interest in the manner and methods he used to pass online gambling and its relationship to clients he may have lobbied for in his law firm and he’s Black.

… Not one black councilmember has called for the resignation of Harry Thomas.  Not that they don’t condemn his actions, but I think there is a concern, and that is the complex part about these ethical violations, there is a concern in some segments of the Black community in this town to call for the removal of Black politicians will further the gentrification of the city.  And as we all know that is a complex issue with emotions on both sides.

Gentrification is certainly is a complex issue, and adding to that is the feeling that these black politicians have been treated unevenly by the public and media alike. Lightfoot goes on to say that there has been virtually no enforcement of ethics rules and that the only Alexander and Thomas, who are black, have been investigated.

However, The Washington Post‘s Mike DeBonis writes that there is some difference in these supposed ethical violations:

The tricky issue here, though, is that not all of these alleged misdeeds are equally serious, to my mind. The Thomas allegations, in particular, stand apart from the others, not only in the seriousness of the alleged wrongdoing but in terms of the credibility and evidence of the allegations.

Do you feel that some of the city’s white leaders haven’t been scrutinized as much as black leaders? Post your thoughts below.