As the District is set to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the approval of the Home Rule Charter by the U.S. Congress and President Richard M. Nixon, one aspect of the city’s governing document seems to have been left behind intentionally.
The Home Rule Charter mandates that out of the four at-large seats on the D.C. Council — the District’s legislative body — two must go to the non-majority party. Translated, that means two of the Council’s at-large seats must be occupied by people who aren’t Democrats.
For many years, District leaders and voters followed the charter’s mandate by electing Republicans such as Jerry Moore, Carol Schwartz and David Catania in addition to Statehood Green Party members Julius Hobson and Hilda “Grandmother of the World” Mason to the Council. However, within the last 15 years, political aspirants have run for the two non-Democratic at-large seats as “Independents” in order to get elected to the Council.
Former Council member Michael Brown ran for mayor in the Democratic primary in 2006 but changed to independent to join the council in 2009. The latest example of this is Ward 5 Democratic Council member Kenyan McDuffie winning his at-large election in November by leaving the party and running as an Independent. This practice is wrong and must end.
Democracy suffers when different voices aren’t heard and not respected. The Democratic Party in the District, with 76.5% of all residents registered to vote, will continue to be the dominant political force in the city for years to come. However, the D.C. Council should have a diversity of voices and parties involved in it.
Republican supporters of the Home Rule legislation in 1973 knew that the city would be a Democratic bastion due to its majority Black and working-class population. Nevertheless, they didn’t want the legitimate voices of Republicans, Statehood Party, Libertarians and others to be stifled because of the party affiliation. The two non-Democratic seats are designed to give voices to those members of the city’s minority political parties with the goal that everyone’s views will be heard.
Plus, Democratic politicians should not leave the party in order to obtain a position but work within that framework to achieve their goals. Honest party-switching should be encouraged but not changing parties for personal, political gain.