[from December 2002 issue]


As regular readers know, over the past couple of years we have been quite generous in our praise for the performance of our city council and many of its members. For the most part, they have been front and center on the myriad issues that are of true importance to the residents and sensitive to the need to properly balance competing interests and priorities.

Unfortunately, however, recently the council, by a vote of 10 for and three against, went off the deep end into the ether of foreign policy. In so doing, they went beyond their mandate as members of our local legislature.

We refer to the November 7, 2002 resolution to oppose our country engaging in military action against Iraq unless there is what the resolution calls an "imminent threat" to the U.S.

It's not that we necessarily disagree with the underlying policy questions relative to whether this country should or should not take military action; this is a highly complex topic and not one that a neighborhood newspaper like ours can claim special expertise sufficient to justify comment--any more than our city council can claim that it is in a position to offer appropriate guidance to the Nation.

Notwithstanding, council members who pushed for this resolution did claim to have a responsibility to speak for their constituents on this issue, claiming justification because, in the words (as quoted by the Washington Post) of our much-admired Ward 1 member of the council, Jim Graham, "We're the legislative body for the District of Columbia."

Yes, the council is the legislative body for DC--but that doesn't mean that we voters elected its members to speak for us on issues of national import, foreign policy, or any of the other great debates of the age. We voted for these members because we believed (or hoped) they would be the best people to deal with the issues of city governance; we want them to devote full time and attention to matters of law and regulation, agency and executive branch oversight, and other fundamental matters such as education, crime, delivery of services, and so forth.

These are the matters about which the members of the council have expertise and it is about these things that they and their staffs have a pretty clear notion of how their constituents feel about those matters.

But what makes them believe that they can, out of the blue, suddenly announce that they know what the citizens of this city really want done about Iraq? Unlike municipal issues as to which members of the council have been exposed to citizen viewpoints for years through hearings and community meetings, through studying the local issues in depth, consulting about those issues, and spending most--if not all--their waking hours immersed in dealing with those issues, we seriously doubt the council members really have any special knowledge or understanding as to what our attitudes really are about Iraq and how to handle that country.

It is this arrogation unto themselves of speaking on behalf of the voters who did not vote them into office to be a shadow foreign affairs committee that has us terribly annoyed. We are not aware that they held any "town hall" or community-based meetings, or even any formal proceedings to solicit citizen views. Rather, we have the distinct impression that the 10 members who voted in favor of the resolution did so merely on the basis of what they have seen on the nightly news, coupled with generalized references to how this reminds some people of the Vietnam opposition years. (It clearly comes nowhere close; we lived through that time and we know what it was like in this city, particularly right here in Dupont Circle; what's happening now is nothing like then and why our otherwise perceptive legislators have read so much meaning into garden-variety demonstrations is beyond us.)

In closing, all we can do is urge that our council members return to their primary job of keeping us safe from a dysfunctional school system, a still shaky services delivery bureaucracy, flim-flam artists who prey on the elderly and unscrupulous slumlords who prey on the poor, and criminals (or a police department that doesn't yet seem to have a handle on how to protect us). But, please, don't hold yourselves out as our spokespersons on issues that transcend the governance of our city.