Sherwood’s Notebook: The Year in Ethics

Art Lien

The late Kansas City Star columnist and author Bill Vaughan had it right:

“An optimist stays up to see the new year in,” he said. “A pessimist waits to make sure the old one leaves.”

How should we approach the new year after the upheavals of 2012?

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The Notebook likes this unattributed line: “When I thought about the evils of drinking in the new year, I gave up thinking.”

The top story in D.C. for 2012 could have been that our homicide rate fell below 100 for the first time in decades. (We still have a few days for that to actually come true.)

The top story could have been the economic boom that’s driving billions of dollars in development in the city. Or it might have been the continuing population growth after years of decline.

Unfortunately, all of those are also-rans.

The top story in our city -- by far -- for 2012 and maybe the foreseeable future begins and ends with ethics.

Kwame Brown. Felon.

Harry Thomas Jr. Felon.

Brown, the former D.C. Council chairman, and Thomas, the former council member, lead the parade of the fallen and the suspect. Brown is serving home detention and public community service for a few more months. Thomas is in prison in Alabama.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen is coming under some community heat to wrap up his long investigation into the 2010 campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray. But some in law enforcement and elsewhere note that Gray has declined to meet with prosecutors, prolonging the investigation. The mayor certainly has a right not to cooperate, but politically it’s a no-win situation. For many, in the court of public opinion it makes the mayor look guilty.

Machen does have three guilty pleas, including that of Jeanne Clarke Harris. In court, Harris’ guilty plea officially revealed the existence of a $650,000 “shadow” campaign that helped elect Gray. Until her court case, the “shadow” campaign was attributed to “sources” and people “close to law enforcement.”

But it’s a fact that a shadow campaign on Gray’s behalf sullied his election. As 2013 begins, we are still waiting to learn more details about who thought it up and who carried it out.

■ Going great guns. Last week President Barack Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a task force to determine what new gun laws could be enacted in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 children and six adults.

D.C. officials welcomed the move. The city is still irritated that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 threw out the city’s absolute ban, saying it violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans wants to see tougher national laws because he says legal and illegal guns flow into the District, many of them from Virginia.

“You know, there’s nothing we can do,” he told NBC4. “You can buy guns in Virginia at will. You can buy bullets at will, and unfortunately you can get in your car and drive across the 14th Street Bridge and bring them into the District of Columbia.”

Evans said he also welcomes a review of mental health policies that might identify those who are prone to engage in gun violence. “Yes, we should treat mental health; it’s very important,” he said. “But if people didn’t have access to guns, it wouldn’t matter what state of mind you’re in, you wouldn’t be shooting anybody.”

■ Waving the flag. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is about to get first-rate treatment and respect for the city’s flag.

Norton earlier this fall disclosed that the U.S. Navy and other federal agencies do not routinely include the D.C. flag at ceremonies where the flags of all 50 states are flown.

Norton held a news conference to highlight a District family whose members were embarrassed by the omission. A son was graduating from naval training at Great Lakes. The home state flag was dipped for each graduate. But there was no D.C. flag.

Norton said it was a demeaning oversight. As the holidays approached, Norton won passage of her measure to require the D.C. and territorial flags to be displayed whenever the 50 state flags are.

We certainly can salute that.

And, by the way, we’d like to say, happy New Year to all.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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