With the resignation and criminal convictions of two D.C. Council members and other political scandals this year likely on their minds, voters in the District of Columbia approved two charter amendments in yesterday’s general election that would disqualify elected officials from serving if convicted of a felony while in office.
The two charter amendments passed with more than 75 percent of voters saying yes. Charter Amendment VI would make any council member convicted of a felony while in office ineligible to stay in office or hold that position in the future. Charter Amendment VII would apply the same rules to the mayor.
The vote comes at the tail-end of a rough year for the city’s political reputation. Former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is serving a 38-month prison sentence after pleading guilty in January to embezzling public funds. Former Council Chair Kwame Brown is due for sentencing next week after pleading guilty to bank fraud and campaign finance law violations. And an ongoing investigation into Mayor Vincent Gray’s (D) 2010 campaign has already resulted in guilty pleas from several ex-campaign aides and supporters; the mayor has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Although the District was a non-issue in yesterday’s presidential election - more than 91 percent of voters in the historically Democrat-heavy city went for President Barack Obama - there was one closely watched citywide race for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. Challenger David Grosso (I) - a lawyer and former chief counsel for U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) - unseated incumbent Councilmember Michael Brown (I).
Grosso took in 20.8 percent of the vote, compared to the 15.3 percent of voters who cast their ballots for Brown, who also holds a law degree and has worked outside of his council job as a partner at local lobbying and consulting shop called The Madison Group. The two men were vying for one of two seats reserved on the council for a member of a minority party.
Grosso’s election means that J.D.-holders will remain in the majority on the council.
Local voters also approved a third charter amendment that would allow the D.C. Council to expel one of its own members for a “gross failure to meet the highest standards of conduct.” The measure, which received 85.9 percent of the vote, would allow expulsion for "egregious wrongdoing" but would bar the council from expelling a member for exercising his or her First Amendment right to free speech, "no matter how distasteful the expression of that right was to the Council and the District."