This year, voters in Ward 2 opted against rocking the boat and returned newcomer Brooke Pinto to office as a D.C. Council member.
Pinto, who was first chosen in a special election to replace the disgraced Jack Evans, easily dispatched a crowded field of challengers, including our preferred candidate Randy Downs. Her reelection certainly constitutes an improvement from Evans’ troubled tenure, but it falls short of exemplary and is a mediocre choice at best. The ethical concerns that clouded her time in office so far are concerning and point to a need to strengthen ethics rules to prevent another Evans.
Given her brief tenure on the Council, much of Pinto’s time has been viewed in the context of the person she replaced – Evans. As a paragon example, The Washington Post described her as “a new start,” which is true – but it begs the question: Why does our Ward need a “new start”? What was considered bad before Pinto, and how could it be prevented for years to come?
The answers to some of the questions are, of course, Evans and his yearslong joyride of corruption. Once he was caught supporting legislation that would benefit clients of law firms where he held side jobs, he resigned before the Council could expel him. Shortly thereafter, he was saddled with a $35,000 fine by the Council’s ethics board – the largest penalty in its history. Because of his misdeeds, he heaped bad press and public mistrust onto the Council, making it harder for the chamber to do its job and improve people’s lives. Pinto, in spite of any faults she may have, is an improvement from Evans – a step up which is worthy of recognition.
But even if Pinto is a step up from Evans, she falls short of the progressive representative that would make true change in the District. She comes from wealth, and her money became subject to scrutiny as people questioned how someone with less than a decade of livelihood in D.C. could win a governing seat so easily. Evans’ legacy of corruption hangs like a shadow over the Ward 2 seat, making Pinto’s money and funding questionable.
Pinto and Ward 2 voters must break this decades-long run of corruption. Voters need to care about Pinto’s finances and her funding because even though she was investigated and cleared, she entered office amid a cloud of scandal having been accused of essentially buying her seat on the Council.
Now that Pinto is on the Council, Ward 2 residents should push for increased ethics laws that will quash any fears of another Evans scandal. Expanding ethics laws must include language that prohibits Council members to hold an outside job with limited exceptions for those in public service work. Had policies prohibiting outside roles been in place during Evans’ tenure, his corrupt activities while employed as a securities lawyer that resulted in him using his public office to support his private interests could have been avoided.
The Council must also regulate the amount that someone can donate to their own campaign. That change impacts Pinto, as she has stated that most of her campaign money were donations from her personal brokerage account – giving her an unfair leg up against her competitors that had to rely on the donations of others. Campaign funding should be made public – constituents have a right to know how someone is getting the money necessary to successfully run a campaign.
It is also imperative that the Council eliminate the constituents services fund, which is meant to help constituents with immediate services like rent, a new dishwasher, replacing windows, things that the Council can help the community out with. Right now, it is spent on fundraising, advertisements and sports tickets – some materials that help candidates campaign. It doesn’t currently serve who it’s supposed to service – constituents – and should be eliminated because of that.
While Pinto was not the candidate we endorsed, there are certainly positive aspects of her reelection. At 29, Pinto is the youngest D.C. Council member in history, bringing the insight and experiences of the next generation to a legislative body known for inertia. She is also part of a historic female majority on the Council – an important feat in the battle to break the glass ceiling.
No matter what Pinto does, Evans’ legacy will hang over her seat until she proves that she is working in the interest of Ward 2 residents and not herself. The situation ultimately comes down to Ward 2 voters. The Council is all the representation they really get since we are not truly represented in Congress, so they simply need to care more about the person occupying the seat that represents us.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus.
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