Jacob Heilbrunn

Abolish Washington, DC

Washington, DC mayor Vincent Gray and various other officials were arrested yesterday by the U.S. Capitol Police for protesting congressional curbs on using federal money to pay for abortions. "We needed to make a statement," Gray said. Given the way Gray has been running the city, residents of Washington, DC might be better off if he and his corrupt cronies were locked away for the rest of the year. They could issue all the statements they want from the hoosegow. At least they couldn't do any more harm to the city.

Of course Gray seized upon the budget resolution as a smokescreen to deflect attention away from his own misdeeds. The argument of Gray and others is that that Washington, DC is a political football and that representatives impose restrictions on the District that they they wouldn't on their own constituents. So we end up with the spectacle of Washington's mayor acting as though he were a dissident in the Middle East, protesting against an onerous Mubarak.

Gray's protest might carry more weight if the city had shown that it was actually capable of running itself effectively. But each day seems to bring new revelations of fraud and corruption. The only thing that Washington seems to do effectively is hand out parking tickets. But where's all the money going. According to numerous reports in the Washington Post, it's feathering the nests of city officials, who are riding around in SUVs that contravene the city's own regulations or hiring their own offspring to work in government. This is machine-style politics, suggesting that Washington is living in the past.

It briefly looked as though Washington was getting its act together. Under Adrian Fenty schools began to improve. So did the services provided by the city. But the backsliding has begun already. It took Gray only a few weeks to be exposed as corrupt and feckless. Perhaps there is a solution to the nonsense, or at least a partial one: abolish the District of Columbia and incorporate it into Maryland, as the New Republic suggested years ago. End it, don't mend it. Obviously, this wouldn't terminate the potential for big city corruption. After all, New York and Chicago have their own track records of fiscal malfeasance. But it would end the anomalous situation of the District, where city officials don't operate under sufficient scrutiny. The reason they're chafing at any congressional scrutiny is because they want to operate the city as their own private fiefdom, which, to some extent, they already do.

Congress can't really pick up the slack. It's a cumbersome instrument. Though it will be interesting to see if congressional Republicans float the idea of Congress returning to run the city. It would be hard to imagine they could do a worse job than the current crew.